Digital Products: 4 Reasons to Hire an Outside Design Team

By Lisa Helminiak

January 3, 2017

Expectations are high. Speed to market is a priority. Companies know that updating or launching new digital products and applications is critical to their survival. Because of this, many bring design in-house.

The advantage of an in-house design team is they can drive the internal design and development process within their company culture, knowing how decisions get made and why money gets spent. They can help create a knowledge base around customers and become smart brand stewards. Their continuity helps companies become better product developers.

But this strength can become a weakness over time. If customers change or an industry is disrupted, in-house knowledge and experience can result in blind spots. Plus, inefficiencies in design and development processes can become ingrained and exaggerated when teams work together for a long time.

Here are some other good reasons you may want to engage an outside design team, especially one using a human-centered design framework.

1. Competing Priorities for Development

As soon as a digital application or product hits the market, teams are thinking about the next release.

Product managers are often bombarded with the next user stories from sales, marketing, tech, and customer service. Often, whoever has the most leverage in the company, gets their priorities met first. Alternatively, the technical team may drive the product release priorities based on how much time they have left after meeting other demands from across the organization.

Either way, the market or your users may not be driving development, which can cause a product to fail to thrive.

An outside human-centered design firm can help set priorities using insights gathered from users to lay out a product roadmap that meets customer expectations. Generating this roadmap from true customer insight gives the next release a higher chance of meeting its revenue and adoption goals.

2. Pressure from Competition in the Market

Nimble start-ups and leapfrogging competitors are disrupting companies that once had industry-leading business models or digital applications.

Internal teams often are unable to imagine a new future, because they’re used to what their product does and how it works. As a result, they may overlook signs and signals that their product needs to change.

Stitch Fix is a good example of this type of disruption. Stitch Fix has developed a new way for customers to find and purchase the latest fashions that are curated for their taste, budget and occasion. It’s no wonder retailers like Macy’s and Saks are struggling.

Bringing in an outside design team can give clarity not only on what is happening in the market, but also on what users and customers really want and need, right now. The human-centered design process allows rapid insight gathering, ideation, prototyping and testing to find the right innovative path forward for a product and business.

3. Service Alignment Needs

A digital product or application doesn’t function in a vacuum. It’s typically part of a larger service and company ecosystem that supports the entire customer journey.

That journey may need to jump from device to device or channel to channel to match customers’ expectations for connectivity and service no matter where they are. However, most businesses still function in operational silos. Often a product manager or product team doesn’t have the opportunity to see the full customer experience from the outside in.

A human-centered design team, especially one with a service-design specialty and cross-industry experience, can help map the details of the full customer journey. They can create service design tools such as stakeholder maps, expectation maps and broader journey maps to help product teams see where product and service come together.

Ultimately, the best product experiences have the service experience built in. So starting with a service assessment can help set the right priorities for next-generation development of a digital product.

4. New Perspective on a Problem

Believe it or not, it can be cost effective to bring in a fresh set of eyes every once and awhile.

A design team that’s well grounded in design thinking methods can help with larger strategy while also working on those nagging product challenges that don’t seem to get solved over time. For example, Azul Seven recently was brought in by a client just to look at their pricing model and how they were explaining it to customers during the signup process.

These types of micro-engagements, or design sprints, can help clarify specific areas of friction or develop new ideas around an aspect of the product or service experience. What might take months to untangle with an internal team can be improved in a short, one-week design sprint by an outside firm.

Product managers and their teams know their products better than anyone and can take on many challenges. But there are times when it makes sense to bring in outside help. If you decide to, consider hiring an outside design team that uses a human-centered approach and has experience integrating the service experience with the product design.

Want to learn more about human-centered design, service design or design sprints, contact us.

Want to learn more about design for innovation or biomimicry?

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