Tuesday 21 June 2016

Ask questions

It is not the method of development, process of solving an issue, or having the potentially best idea that matters. It is the questions you ask. For the right questions can make or break the best of ideas for a product.

In my copmany it is normal to have someone come up with brilliant idea for a tool. The idea is then sold to management and hurray, we can go start developing it. But is this the best possible approach?

Ask the right questions

I was called to a meeting about new project which our department was tasked with creating. I had no idea what it was about, nor who were the clients. I came in the room, sit down next to the Project Manager and waited for some official introduction into the project. It did not happen.

What happened instead was big discussion about what pictures are gonna be used, what type of video will be recorder, who will shoot it and where it will take place. They already had a structure of the project layed down. It is then I realized this project was already in progress, and as I later lerned, it was in progress for a month.

In 20 minutes of this meeting, everything was settled. Well, nothing was settled. They did not know what pictures to take, they did not know what the video will say or how it will look, they suggested multiple possible information architectures. It was a mess.

And so after 20 minutes of my silent observation I looked toward the still unknown client and asked a simple question: "What is the goal of this project?" All the attention was suddenly aiming towards me. I got some responses. This project apparently was supposed to be doing great many things. So I once again asked, rephrasing the question: "What is the main goal of this project?".

I learned it is supposed to be used for promotion and hiring. Well, sounds okay. So the follow up question was: "Who is the target audience?". Once again, the target audiance could be sumarized as everyone. So I rephrased it: "Who is the primary audience?".

It took some time, but after it, we actually started to make progress. We now knew, what target group is going to use this project and what is its purpose.

Know your purpose

Armed with the knowledge of the target group and purpose of the project, I then asked: "So, what do you know about these users?". Questioning continued until we realized, we don't really know that much. We know some things, but are they enough?

I proposed research interviews in which we would establish some personas for our user base. I explained how it is important to always learn about your users, then create content based on your findings and then, and only then starting to think about the design, the medium - whether to use photos, videos, text, music or call it a day realizing, your project is not needed at all.

Without information about what you want to achieve, without knowing for whom you are achieving it, you can hardly create meaningful tool. You can, if you are lucky. Really lucky. But even then, it could have been better, if you only done your research. And so set out to do some research.

Research interview is once again place where you need the right questions. Truth be sad, even I am struggling with the right questions. It never occurs to me how silly questions I could ask and how great value it can bring. I keep asking about certain aspects of things, but I never think there is other. Granted, I always yield some results which are surprising, but I was always look back realizing I could have done so much better, if only I asked better questions.

Content above design

Before the meeting was over, I tried to set the mood, to make my case and to share how I like to work. I tried to explain that content is step before design. That how we show information should be decided after we have information.

When this meeting started, clients had ideas for photos, for videos, for architecture of the projects result. But they had limited idea of each of these. Photos were not saying any message. Videos content was a speculation yet video was a must, structure was change rethought already and could be again.

They were already boxed in the design choices. And even if you found out the best possible content and you would find out the target audiance likes to read, you would still be boxed in the idea to create a video. And so you would. Therefore it is better to leave to cross that bridge once you get there and not before. First find out who you are working for, what is your goal, what are you trying to achieve, what is standing in your way, why is it a problem. Then create content, ideas, features. Then start thinking how it will look and sell.

When this meeting ended, the video, the pictures, the structure, it was all pushed back. The next step was research as clients started to understand the importance of it. And I can say right now, I will enjoy this project.

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