The (Social) Science of Technology

by Ruth Frank, senior director of global user experience at Pitney Bowes

Product development has evolved beyond simple focus groups and small upgrades to existing machines. Now, when developing tech, social sciences like anthropology and psychology are brought into the equation in order to better understand what the customer needs versus what the company wants. But, just how do these different groups come together to create seamless, customer-first products?

Today, user experience (UX) is defined as the overall interaction an individual has using a product or application. UX designers work to understand the holistic experience from the end-user’s perspective, which helps them uncover and design ways to create or enhance existing technologies.

As UX design experts, my team works to understand the psychology behind every human interaction with a product. We study the “why” – why people interact with a product in a certain way and the “what” – what unique experiences we can provide to prospective users to solve the problems they are facing. Innovative products such as robotic vacuums, drones for deliveries, suitcases with built-in battery chargers, and even apps that allow you to turn lights on and off while away from home all address and improve the client user experience.

While there is no one right approach when it comes to developing new technologies, the most successful technologies make connections between positive human interactions and lasting experiences.

“Design Thinking” is the protocol to do just that. It ensures that the client’s experience is at the forefront and that technologies are created and tested against individual psychological attributes. Experts in anthropology and psychology are brought to the table, together with the rest of the product team to ensure that products adhere to human interactions and habits. Successful products are those that are developed with the psychology of the user in mind – what captures their attention, solves their problems and enhances their experience.

In doing so, five key principles should be considered when developing new technologies in today’s digital age:

Empathy

You cannot create a successful product without deeply understanding the end-user. The most important step in the design process is taking the time to empathize with the users and understand their needs and challenges. This goes beyond market research and requires listening to and even spending time with your prospective clients in their environment. For instance, when developing our new SendPro C Series platform for shipping and mailing, our teams began by shadowing 70+ small and medium business clients around the world to understand their challenges. By studying their behaviors and empathizing with how they interact and engage with products, we were able to identify and understand the complexities issues keeping them up at night.

Defining the Problem

Once you derive insights based on research and true human interaction, you then move onto defining the actual problem. It’s important to incorporate key takeaways from your observations to define the most important issues to be solved. Going back to our SendPro C Series product, we learned that our clients were having challenges with the complexities of sending and tracking their goods. We knew there was an opportunity to address and solve the inconsistencies and unknowns of shipping.

Ideation

After clearly defining the problem, you move to the ideation process where the cross functional team ideates on potential solutions through creating, pitching, critiquing and iterating. Design Thinking makes this step much simpler. Researching and experiencing your clients’ needs up front speeds up the ideation process by bringing key client insights to the forefront. This steps requires collaboration and drawing on strengths of your team, whether a design expert, technologist, developer, product manager, psychologist or marketer to ensure that they have a voice at the table. Collaboration is key in ensuring that a product is developed with all facets of the human interaction in mind.

Creating a Prototype

With an idea at hand, it’s time to tackle developing the solution. Creating a product prototype allows you to develop and test different features before going to market. This is the process which enables rapid learning and innovation from successes and failures. Our SendPro C Series underwent more than 20 iterations as we tested over 100 functionalities including touchscreen interface, iconography and simplified language to create an intuitive experience for our clients. This is also important as we think not only about the “what” in product development but also the “why” – why/ how individuals are interacting with a product.

Go-To Market

Once the prototype is deemed successful, you are then able to take your new product to market. However, the product journey does not simply end there. Data and Analytics allow us to continuously learn from our clients. Designers also continue to monitor market developments and shifting customer behaviors and needs to improve upon existing products.

While new technologies are fun and exciting, we would be remiss to overlook the end user and the design thinking journey that brings the product to market. Understanding the end user truly lays the groundwork for product creation. In today’s age of client experience, it is more important than ever before to put the actual users at the center and make sure that what you are creating fits their needs.


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  • A look at the rebranding of an old industry made anew: marijuana 
  • A Manifesto from Scott Boylston on the dire need for sustainability in design
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