Product design: don’t you wish someone had bothered?

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As a custom software development business, one of the things we always tell prospects when we’re in the early stages of pitching to them is that we’re fanatical about product design. It’s all very well creating a technically brilliant piece of software that can handle the complexities of a modern business, but if it’s unintuitive, confusing to look at or difficult to work with it’s never going to win any fans. And if people don’t like software, they simply won’t use it.

The effects can be profound: if you’re aiming to disrupt a market with a brand new product, bad design could mean it’ll never gain enough traction to become a success. If you’re operating in an established market then customers will quickly ditch you for one of your competitors. And if yours is a purely internal business system, bad product design can result in wasted time, duplication of effort, and users reverting to previous methods (spreadsheets, anyone?). That’s going to negate the point of investing in new software.

CRM de la CRM

This was all brought home to me when I caught up with a friend recently, finding out about his new job over a couple of pints. Alongside all the good stuff, he explained how he’d been struggling to get to grips with the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system. The best CRMs can be incredibly useful at helping you extract insightful, actionable information from your data and, having worked with various other systems in the past, my friend knows what he needs from a CRM to support the business.

This one isn’t delivering it. We talked through gripes including the system’s inability to assign a whole-company revenue target, quarterly report dates that couldn’t be changed to match the company’s Q1, 2, 3 and 4 dates, and the fact that none of the data fields could be made mandatory – important if you need to ensure quality.

The worst problem, however, seems to be around the creation of custom fields, which allow you to capture any sort of data that’s important to your individual business. In this case, the company wanted to record the source of leads – that’s obviously useful to keep track of which activities are best at generating potential customers so that those channels can be prioritised.

The best way to do this would be to create a pick list of possible lead sources: that’s a better approach than free text because it helps maintain consistency. However, on investigation it appeared that once this list had been set up, there would be no way to go back and add in a new important source of leads. The only option would be to delete the whole list and start again, losing all the data on years of lead sources.

Mystic Meg

What this basically means is that the first time you set this CRM up, you need to know all of your possible future lead sources. Who knows what they might be in five years’ time? This and the software’s other weaknesses are clearly the result of poorly thought-out product design, and perhaps also an inability to respond to customer feedback. Unsurprisingly my friend’s company now has serious reservations about renewing its license – and why should it, when there are so many other CRM’s available, or when it could invest in a bespoke system designed to do exactly what it wants, how it wants to do it?

Investing in software development is a big commitment, both financially and reputationally. Getting it right technically is one part of the puzzle, but if your development partner isn’t talking to you seriously about product design, perhaps it’s time to consider your own options.

Choose Red River as your partner and you benefit from our 20-plus years of product design experience. We know it’s your neck on the line, and we know how important it is that you deliver a ‘wow!’ product to your stakeholders and customers. Want to know more about what that means for your project? Let’s chat.

Image: Travis Wise/Flickr, Creative Commons

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