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Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

UX Planet — Medium | Guy Ligertwood

Question 18: You only learn when you fail

20 Designers, 20 Weeks, 1 Question Per Week

Learn From twenty experienced designers as we go deep into one question every week.

This week the designers give their stories on what they learnt from a failed product.

Previous articles in the series (so far)

Intro Article: Get to know the designers
Question 1: How did you get into design?
Question 2: How your typical work day?
Question 3:What things you wish you knew when you started in design?
Question 4: What are the best ways for you to stay inspired?
Question 5: What do you want to see in my UX design portfolio?
Question 6: 5 important questions you need to be able to answer in the UX interview
Question 7: 5 design books every UX designer should read
Question 8: Imposter syndrome: Your experience with it as a designer and tips to manage it
Question 9: 5 non designer books every UX designer should read
Question 10: What’s the best design advice you’ve ever received?
Question 11: 5 things that make a great UX designer
Question 12: What have you struggled with in your your career and how did you overcome it?
Question 13: How do you juggle your life, work and keeping up with the design industry?
Question 14: What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design and why?
Question 15: What tools do you use to design better and be more productive?
Question 16: How do you see the future of UX design?
Question 17: 5 years from now where do you see your design career?
Question 18: (you’re here) Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

“I think of design as discovery, not creation. Maybe it’s because I began as an archaeologist, but I think of design like it’s a dinosaur… a relic buried under the ground. As designers, we are tasked simply with the careful removal of the dirt and shit so that the relic can be discovered, propped up, made useful again, and then put on display in a museum for people to experience it.” (Andrew)

Simon Pan — Senior Interaction Designer at Google, San Francisco, USA

Nationality:

Australian 🇦🇺

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

The “butterfly ballot” design for the 2000 US Presidential Election in Palm Beach County, Florida is a standout example of atrociously bad design.

The butterfly ballot interlaced candidate names along a central column of punch holes. The layout confused so many voters that they ended up accidentally voting for Patrick Buchanan instead of Al Gore, or for both Gore and Buchanan.

A study by “The Palm Beach Post” speculated that voters confused by Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot cost Al Gore the presidency.

This is not a design failure because George Bush won the election, but because so many voters left the polls that day believing they voted for Al Gore. What makes this worse is that the exact same problem occurred, for the exact same reason during the 1996 election in Palm Beach county.

Any competent designer could take one look at the ballot form and see the usability issues. Any amateur designer, could have user tested the form and spotted the issues ahead of time.

Beyond the ballot form, today’s design challenges are more interconnected, globalized, and complex. Decisions seemingly big and small carry serious consequences for our world and I agree that it’s time for *Design to be a licensed profession (Read Designs lost generation by Mike Monteiro).

Where can people follow you?

simonpan.com or on twitter

Andrew Doherty — CEO, Another.ai, Berlin, Germany

Formerly Product Design Manager at Google, Mountain View

Nationality:

Australian 🇦🇺

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

Let’s be honest, almost every project we work on, fails in one way or another. Usually the thing that let’s me down every time is time itself. Moving too slow. Having to cut features and functionality to please ‘the business’.

I wrote an article about this on medium, and it went pretty viral in the design community at the time, because I think we all feel this pain throughout our careers: Good UX designers must be fighters, because compromised designs are not good designs.

I think of design as discovery, not creation. Maybe it’s because I began as an archaeologist, but I think of design like it’s a dinosaur… a relic buried under the ground. As designers, we are tasked simply with the careful removal of the dirt and shit so that the relic can be discovered, propped up, made useful again, and then put on display in a museum for people to experience it.

As designers, we must also fill in the gaps and the missing bits with our imagination and ideas. But businesses, developers, time and money are always at odds with us. If we aren’t careful, they will attempt to change the nature of the dinosaur, crushing it’s bones into dust, and then later they wonder why people don’t want to visit the relic at the museum.

The best designers are the ones who negotiate their way around these constraints and fight and manipulate all of the varying stakeholders (who are often also at odds with each other) to advocate for the purity of the vision.

But it will never be perfect. Perfection in design is not design, it’s art. And we are not artists, we are negotiators. And negotiators are always failing. That’s what negotiation is. Failing a lot, but still trying, always, to win.

Where can people follow you?

My website or on Medium

Adham Dannaway — Senior UI/UX designer, Contract/Freelance, Sydney, Australia

Nationality:

Australian 🇦🇺

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

When I was first starting out in design, I worked for a start up that was creating a DIY website building tool for small businesses (yes, another website builder). The cool thing about this one was that a business owner could simply input their business name, industry and brand colours and a website would automagically be generated before their eyes full of relevant content and images. It was literally a website with a click of a button.

I was responsible for designing and building the website template framework from which these websites would be automatically generated. I needed to figure out a way to automatically create a decent website for a business based on their name, industry and brand colours. Challenge accepted.

After a lot of head-scratching and research, I decided to represent each website as a simple list of attributes including: template (defines the layout of the website), content blocks (types of content including images, text and videos), colours (up to 2 company colours) and themes (fonts and styles). I created multiple types of interchangeable attributes to ensure that there was a good range of variation amongst websites.

Unfortunately, the company went out of business before we finished building the product. It was a really fun and challenging project and I learned a lot about the anatomy of a website.

If you learn something from a failure, it’s not really a failure after all.

Where can people follow you?

adhamdannaway.com

Ben Huggins — Sr Interaction Designer, YouTube, San Francisco, USA

Nationality:

American 🇺🇸

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

A part of me likes to believe that well-built products will always be the most successful ones. A nice thought, but as I learned the hard way… that part of me needs to shut up.

When I was in grad school, I worked with my friend Noah to build Highlight Hunter — an app to help people find and share the best moments in their video footage. We knew this was a huge issue for anyone with hours of unwatched footage from their GoPro camera, kids’ sports, family activities, etc.

Because we built a solid app that helped solve this problem, I was certain users would discover it. They didn’t. We ran out of cash and decided to open source the app. I learned that even if people have a nagging problem, solving it is only the beginning. Connecting them with the solution (let alone getting them to PAY for it) still takes a lot of work.

There’s a million quotes out there about how ideas are worthless without execution. But even “executed” ideas still need to connect with an audience.

So yeah. We learned a ton (which Noah wrote about here), but had to close up shop. The silver lining? GoPro now has a button on their cameras called HiLight Tag. Consider us flattered.

Where can people follow you?

hugg.in or I’m @bhuggins on Twitter and Instagram

Nick Babich — Development Team Manager, Ring Central, Russia

Nationality:

Russian 🇷🇺

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

I’ll tell you a story of my first real project which I did more than 10 years ago. The task was to develop a system of arrivals and departures of vessels. The client was one seaport and they wanted to use this system on their website.

I was so happy with the fact that I’m working on the system that will make lives of hundreds of people better, so I’ve decided to build the most technically advanced and visually rich system. I’ve tried to put as many features as I could. For example, my system had a powerful interface for content administrators which allowed to import and export data directly from many sources, had a synchronization between events, monitored and fixed duplicated in information.

After a month of intensive work on this system (designing, coding and debugging), I’ve demonstrated the system to the client. It was a fully-functioning system ready to go live… at least I thought so. The demo session didn’t go really well. I got a lot of criticism.

The major problem was — the system I’ve created wasn’t the system my client wanted. As was found out, they needed a simple table with WYSIWYG editor so the administrator (a person with limited computer skills) could simply add a new event or change existing events in the table. My initial idea that an advanced user will use the system simply failed apart.

But I learned a few important things:

  1. Always clarify your goals. It should be absolutely clear to you what problem you solve and what are expectations of your clients regarding the system you’re building.
  2. You are not your user/client. Never assume how people will use your product without doing a proper research/requirement clarification.
  3. Feature != value. More features don’t automatically translate into the more value. The best products are the ones that give users what they need.
  4. Iterate, iterate, iterate. Don’t try to build a complete product right from the first attempt. Always iterate and test after each iteration.

Where can people follow you?

UX Planet, Twitter Facebook

Kymberlee Ide —Vice President, Experience Design at FCV Interactive

(*Kymberlee has just moved from VP of Experience Design at McCann)

Nationality:

Canadian 🇨🇦

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

Back in my client-side days, I was leading the digital strategy and implementation of a multi-million dollar project for a big bank here in Canada. I came on board to the project while it was in-flight, and the project process at the time was a bit wonky (lack of prototyping, used only flat wireframes).

When we finally got into build of the main (and very complex) piece of this new website, the user flows were really bad. I remember flagging it and advising that we could not proceed with this approach and design and my boss at the time told me I would be committing career suicide if I took it to the leadership team & steering committee. But the reality was, I was risking everything no matter which choice I made.

In the end, it turned out to be ok. I did what was right and went to the committee and we got the project extended another 5 months to make this component right.

Moral of the story: Do the right thing.

Where can people follow you?

My Linkedin

Alessandro Floridi — UX Manager at Deloitte, Sydney, Australia

Nationality:

Italian 🇮🇹

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

“There’s no such a thing as failures, only feedback” (Richard Bandler said once)

I keep receiving “feedback” daily and it’s still an unpleasant experience. My biggest failure is still vivid in my mind even though it occurred more than ten years ago, I was living in China at that time and I was playing around with technology a lot. A customer asked me about a digital signage solution and I had this idea that I was so proud of, using a military software that a friend of mine was developing to detect the gender of the viewer and display targeted ads. You probably can see where this is going, I thought that was it, the best idea I’d ever had.

The product was awesome and very simple. A mega sized display a camera and the sperimental software, basically an accident waiting to happen. The disaster happened when it was placed in a famous airport in France. Shortly I received a very nice folder with 300 pages from a famous lawyer saying something about privacy. I did not think about that! I should have tested the product and I should not have fallen in love for my idea. Feedback received.

Where can people follow you?

My Linkedin

Leslie Chicoine — Experience Design and Product Management Consultant, Denver, USA

Nationality:

American 🇺🇸

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

I learned early on the value of testing, so I haven’t experienced that many product failures. Sure, there have been things that didn’t pan out well in testing or prototyping, but I’d call those learnings, not failures. Where I’ve seen real failures happen is with team dynamics. So the learning here is that building healthy communication patterns within teams is just as important as creating some great together.

Where can people follow you?

My Instagram and Twitter

Buzz Usborne — Product Designer at Help Scout, Sydney, Australia

Nationality:

British 🇬🇧 and recently Australian 🇦🇺

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

So many things haven’t gone the way I’d planned — that’s kinda the point though, isn’t it? Failures have made me a better person and a better designer. One particular failure springs to mind though, and that’s something I did for my own product, prevue.it

At it’s core, Prevue contains a library of folders each of which contains design work that you share with clients. One day a friend suggested that if I let users make their library’s public, Prevue could double as a portfolio tool. Seemed like a fun idea, so I built it.

Over the course of several months, thousands of people signed up for this specific feature — as it turns out, portfolio tools are big business! Unfortunately, not a single one of those new users wanted to pay — they also demanded a lot of extra functionality provided by competing software. Meanwhile, existing customers were confused by the “new” product direction and started to churn. Basically I’d created a huge mess which took years to remove, and cost a decent chunk of customers.

I learned the hard way that just because something is easy to build or fun to do, doesn’t make it worthwhile.

I learned that new features need to fit with existing customer need as well as ongoing business strategy — which goes beyond simply making things look good, or easy to use.

I learned that by simply talking to customers, I’d get a far better idea of what features should take priority, and which ones didn’t really solve any existing pain points.

And I learned that sometimes, thousands of new users isn’t always a good thing.

Where can people follow you?

My work at buzzusborne.com, my Twitter, my writing on Medium and my resume on Linkedin

Kylie Timpani — Senior Designer at Humaan, Perth, Australia

Nationality:

Australian 🇦🇺

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

I can’t actually say that I’ve had the opportunity to work on a product to such an extent, much less one important enough to have a pass/fail metric.

What I have worked on, is plenty of public-facing websites, many of which I experienced a significant level of failure. The most reoccurring failure, particularly in the early stages of my career, is when I deliver a design that completely misses the mark across a variety of areas.

Maybe the style wasn’t right. Maybe the user experience wasn’t pleasant. Maybe the layout didn’t speak to the relevant audience. Maybe it doesn’t reflect the brand. Maybe the client simply doesn’t like it.

It’s hard to cop these failures, because it means that you’ve missed something in the process or, much worse, you’ve ignored or dismissed vital information. It’s a bit of a bomb but… there is also plenty of room for growth.

This growth exists in what we learn from our failings, and what I have learnt is that there are three easy and almost instant ways to encourage the success of a project as well as lessening the chance of producing a failing design. I…

  • Listen very carefully to all of the information about the subject and problem I’m designing for.
  • Ask lots of questions if I’m not sure about something or if I need extra clarification. I don’t worry about looking uninformed or silly and I tell myself that, actually, I am invested and engaged.
  • I try to bury as much of my personal bias as possible in order to consider as much of the project’s problems and context as much as possible.

I’ve found that embracing these three methods means that the work I produce is more accurate and more considered and has less chance of failing. On top of that, the client can see that you’re immersed in their project and vision, therefore fostering a trusting and healthy collaboration free of pushback and off-the-cuff feedback.

Where can people follow you?

My Twitter and also on my Dribbble for haphazardly timed insights into my work.

Graeme Fulton — Writer, coder, designer at Marvel Gibraltar, UK

Nationality:

British 🇬🇧

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

I have a lot of failed products and ideas, here’s a couple:

1. Lostgrad community

When I finished uni, it was at a time when everyone was struggling to find jobs, so I thought I’d make a community site that would help them:

Lostgrad Jobs Website

I wrote about the whole failure of it here some years ago, and that was my biggest lesson in failing fast and early:

Case study: Remaking Lostgrad.com

2. Slappy Face

I really have no idea why this one never took off 🙈:

You can play it here.

Learnings from this one — it was fun to make!

In all, I’ve learned that you can’t have a successful product with good design alone. It can be the best product in the world, but if you don’t get it out there, build a community around it and have a good sales team, you don’t really have much.
Right now, I’m making an email templating app called Tamarin Templates:

Tamarin Templates – Product Hunt

Subscribe 👆and watch it fail or win.

Where can people follow you?

My Twitter

Kaiting Huang — Interaction Designer at Google, in Seattle, USA

Nationality:

Taiwanese

Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

To answer this question, we’ll first need to define the success metrics. Google has a handy framework called HEARTS that can be used to measure a product’s user experience:

  • Happiness: User satisfaction
  • Engagement: Frequency of usage
  • Adoption: # of new users of a product or feature for x amount of time
  • Retention: # of users who use a product or feature again for x amount of time
  • Task success: Completion rate and time spent on a given task

In all honesty, before joining Google, I didn’t know how successful or poor most of my designs were, because agency projects weren’t really set up for tracking the performance long-term. In this respect, most of my projects were probably a “failed” one if I were to measure it by “HEART” because there was simply no resources/plans to keep tracking, iterating and optimizing. It’s nearly impossible to get everything right at the first time without any testing.

However, for me personally, as long as I can learn something new from the project, it’s considered a little win. Whether it be understanding a new industry (e.g. Canal bridge scheduling app), learning how to work with developers (e.g. Learning to code and communicating in dev’s language), mastering a design tool (e.g. How to use “Symbols” in Sketch), or getting to know an interesting coworker, etc.

Where can people follow you?

My Medium

“A part of me likes to believe that well-built products will always be the most successful ones. A nice thought, but as I learned the hard way… that part of me needs to shut up.” (Ben)

If you enjoyed this…

Read the other articles in this series

Intro Article: Get to know the designers
Question 1: How did you get into design?
Question 2: How your typical work day?
Question 3:What things you wish you knew when you started in design?
Question 4: What are the best ways for you to stay inspired?
Question 5: What do you want to see in my UX design portfolio?
Question 6: 5 important questions you need to be able to answer in the UX interview
Question 7: 5 design books every UX designer should read
Question 8: Imposter syndrome: Your experience with it as a designer and tips to manage it
Question 9: 5 non designer books every UX designer should read
Question 10: What’s the best design advice you’ve ever received?
Question 11: 5 things that make a great UX designer
Question 12: What have you struggled with in your your career and how did you overcome it?
Question 13: How do you juggle your life, work and keeping up with the design industry?
Question 14: What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design and why?
Question 15: What tools do you use to design better and be more productive?
Question 16: How do you see the future of UX design?
Question 17: 5 years from now where do you see your design career?
Question 18: (you’re here) Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it

Thanks for the read, before you go

Clap 👏 👏 👏 if you enjoyed this article, so others can find it
Comment 💬 if you have a question you’d like to ask the designers
Follow me Guy Ligertwood to read all the articles in the series

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Tell the story of a failed product you designed for, and what you learned from it was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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