interaction design, User Experience

Interaction Design for Product Managers

UX Diagram

What is Interaction Design?

Smartphone screens are small.  Very small.

Because they’re small, there’s no room for unnecessary information.  For this reason, interaction design–the design of exactly what is necessary for a user to flow through the system to accomplish a goal–is of primary importance in mobile. Because many mobile consumer applications also have web components, the discipline has also bled over to the consumer web.

Enterprise software?  You’re not out of the woods either.  Since your product’s user base are all users of consumer products and mobile apps, they’re starting to expect the same targeted experiences in their enterprise products.

It’s tough to compete out there in the world of mobile apps.  Last I counted, there were 254,129 coupon apps available in the app store.  (more or less)  Why would someone choose yours?

UX Diagram



Marty Cagan wrote this week to suggest that the biggest risk to a product team isn’t value proposition or pricing, but rather, it is the design of your proposed solution.  Traditional product management focuses on the problem space, defining product requirements and focusing on P&L, but to be frank, this is one of the biggest flaws with traditional product management.  Traditional product management doesn’t focus enough on the solution space.

Product owners deal in the solution space.  They generally spend time decomposing stories, ensuring proper implementation and ensuring the next most important items are at the top and ready.  They aren’t trained in interaction design either!

Cagan has long argued that many first attempts won’t be successful and that iteration is mandatory, so iteration should therefore be accelerated.  The definition of “work” is important here.  Many apps will do a job, but users will over time gravitate to the ones that provide the best interaction design.  Just ask Myspace.

Invest in Design

Cagan’s latest post encourages investing in the design of the solution early:

I argue the major risk facing most efforts is solution risk.  Discovering a solution that is compelling to customers.  A solution that your customers will choose to buy and use……

Look, if you can discover a solution that your customers love, then you can tackle the risks of monetization and scale.  However, without that solution, the rest of your work is very likely going to be wasted.

Cagan’s post has been in my head since last Friday.  Then this morning, I observed that venture capitalist Mark Suster wrote thoughtfully about the importance of user testing in “How to Avoid a Common Product Mistake Many Teams Make“:

The single biggest mistake most product teams make is building technology for what they believe the user would want rather than what the actual end-user needs……We live in world of choice and yet paradoxically as humans we generally want fewer choices. We want less complexity…….don’t take my word for it. Do actual usability testing and make sure to include users not from your ordinary circle of friends or similar cohort.

What you assumed was “novice functionality” will likely be too hard.

Enterprises have for years been insulated by forcing employees to use clunky phones with full keyboards and phones with a Start button.  With the increase in bring-your-own-device, however, enterprise software is beginning to fall under the same pressure that has led to the disruption of many consumer applications.  Those just entering the workforce won’t tolerate poorly designed software, because they’ve grown up around great user experience.

They’ll replace your bloatware in a heartbeat.

Stop Making Users Explore

I was excited to read this article today advocating that designers “Stop Making Users Explore” by Laura Klein — rather, design so that the user’s goal is easily accomplished without having to actively learn your product (emphasis added):

The fact is, people in big companies are forced to work with dozens of complicated products every single day. The introduction of a new, complicated product does not instill in them the desire to spend a lot of their day exploring it. It tends to make them sigh resignedly and figure out if there is some way to avoid learning the new system until it goes away and is replaced by something else.

The only way to make a product that people at work want to use is to make a product that is so obvious and easy to operate that they don’t feel like they have to explore it. They can just jump in, share a document, send an email, or do whatever task it is that they wanted to do originally. They shouldn’t have to explore anything to do their jobs.

Remember – as Steve Jobs said:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

If you’re lucky enough to have a product owner, be sure someone’s minding the UX store.


  1. rcauvin

    BKler, I agree with John. Framing the usability requirements is a product manager responsibility, but the actual design to meet those requirements is the responsibility of an interaction designer, user experience designer, and/or graphic designer. The same person, if she happens to possess both skill sets, may be able to play both roles.

    State the requirements as usability metrics that state the least stringent conditions that must hold to ensure the product is sufficiently usable (hopefully, remarkably useable).

  2. BKler, in the past I’ve paired up with IxD to conduct paper prototype testing with users at a user conference, and I’m an avid and frequent user of Balsamiq to iterate through ideas. I think the PM should consider usability requirements (some percentage should be able to reach point x in y steps/timeframe) and should certainly advocate UX as an enabler of reference clients once a contract is signed. However I don’t believe PM need be trained in IxD or personally responsible for the design.

  3. Great reminder of the importance of interaction design, and the distinction between it and graphic design.

  4. BKler

    Where do you see the product manager’s role in Usability? Have you personally used rapid prototyping to do usability testing with products such as Axure or Justinmind?

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