15 tips for building better products

We’re in it to build better products for our customers and make their lives better. What makes certain products stand out? There is no easy answer… There is also no single way to build a successful product, so here are 15 tips – in no particular order – for building better products.

Lower the cognitive load

Help the user focus and perceive the process as less work while performing the necessary actions in smaller steps. If you can break the process into stand alone, easily understandable steps, the user will see it as a much faster experience. This not just makes the user focus on the one thing at hand, but also has a positive effect on how they perceive the amount of work they need to trade for the desired outcome.


Celebrate small wins

Help the user feel a sense of accomplishment with a positive feedback. This can be a tiny animation or copy that congratulates. Repeat it in a consistent way, make it part of the whole experience. Create signature microinteractions as the twitter like popping 💖.

small wins

Always learn about the context

When getting feedback, don’t just leave it at what the user has to say. It’s easier for them to express what they want to do, and not why they want to do it. Learn about the context. They are experts in their problem and not the solution. You are more qualified to find a solution. A user might say, hey I need a calendar. In her head this makes sense, it’s short circuited with a suggested solution. You need to learn how she would like to use the calendar to be able to build the product that helps.


Help users make progress in a positive way

People use your products to help them make progress. They don’t use it because it’s cool, or the next new shiny thing. If that’s all you bring to the table, go back and work on getting them value. The real value is that you help them make progress and to get things done. Whatever “positive” means for them, like finding the fastest route from point A to B or keeping them busy or entertained. Fast is not always good. Find out what good means.


Reduce anxiety by answering questions they may have

When people come across something new to them they have fears and anxieties. It is natural that we are cautious when we see something new.

Will this do what it tells it does? I like it but what will happen with everything I did in the old solution? Can I migrate my data? What if I don’t like it, can I move back to the old solution? What If I outgrow this and need something new?

These are possible anxieties your users might have. Find out what they are and address them. Clear things up for them, and you’ll end up with users who truly trust you and don’t have fear of what happens next?


Make the user awesome

This gets back to helping them make progress in a positive way. Don’t focus on making your app exciting and wonderful, focus on making the user awesome by giving them superpowers. That will make them value your product more and tell their friends about it because they became better versions of themselves by using your product.


Articulate what job your product does

This will be hard at the beginning, but don’t give up. You will need to be able to describe the problem you are solving and how it fits into their lives with simple words that even your grandma can understand. You will need to figure this out – which is not easy – but if you can do this you will know what to focus on.


Learn why people switch

This is key in figuring out why people actually use your product. They were using something else before. You may think the need showed up from thin air and you happened to be there so they picked up whatever you built. But the fact is that there are rarely new things we need to get done. There is so much time in the day, we cannot add minutes or hours to it. So we always switch from something we already do because it doesn’t fit the bill, we want to do certain things better, so we look for something else. This is where your product comes in. If it does the job better, and you can address all the questions your user has, they will likely become a customer.

switch (1)

Ask more questions

What’s the problem with how you currently do it? Learn the story behind it, don’t just accept a quick explanation. How do you imagine the new solution will be better? Learn about the struggling moments. You cannot ask too many questions. Think of it like this… if you ask a lot of questions and talk to people, they will feel important.

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Develop a common language

Having a common language in the team is important. That is how great products are build. If things are off, there will always be frustration and people will do things that the other party will not expect. Seeing things we don’t anticipate throws us off.

Build a common language that you use verbally and in written format. The best way to do it is start with the customer. Listen how they speak about your product, and believe me it is different than what you think it is. Usually, the easiest thing is to use your “own lingo”, like “Business automation processes”, while the customer might just simply say something like “I want to be reminded when to give John a call”.

Listen and learn how your customers speak and use the same language internally. It not only gets everyone on the same page but it makes all of your communication more effective.


Onboard users

No need to say, helping users learn the inside-outs of your product is important. The key is, they don’t need to know everything all at once. They won’t become an expert in using your product just by looking at it. The key in successful onboarding is teaching the user how to be successful in small steps. Educate them on how to do things, and they will learn how to do it with your product. Do this in context or try to keep it in context as much as you can. For example if the user is in you app and just about to schedule a task for the first time, help them through the process and show how to do it. That is way more effective than sending an example or a video of what to do in email. First, they are probably doing something else and just by looking at it forces them to switch context, plus they are not in your app at the moment.


Forget the “You’re one feature away from success”

If the adoption rate of your product is low or non-existent don’t focus on adding more things, because that won’t help. If adding that one thing changes everything, it probably means you didn’t start form the right place. Don’t add more things that you think “hey that is going to be the killer feature everyone wants to see”. Instead, find out why people are not using the product. If a small number of people are using it, find out why they are using it and double down on that.

Remember, you are not building the product for yourself nor to satisfy your need to make something. You create it to be used by other people.


Keep signing up for your product

This seems like nonsense, but it isn’t. Think about it… this is the first touchpoint your users have with your product. Not necessarily with your brand or company, but with the actual product. You probably have laid it down two years ago, tested it, fixed a couple of issues and then moved on to the next thing. You never touched it since, never updated. This is when relics and artifacts of the past stay in there, and while your product changed the onboarding and signup process didn’t change. Doing this could be the job of the growth team, or if you don’t have the manpower for that make sure your team signs up for your product every two weeks or so. Everyone should do this. You’ll be amazed how many things don’t make sense anymore.


Understand your real competitors

You probably know of your direct competitors, which is like McDonald’s to Burger King, but there are the indirect competitors, like Skype to business class travel (think about it!) or a Zippo vs a bottle of wine. Well… the Zippo doesn’t compete with other lighters. Why is it placed in the gift section and not next to the other lighters? Technically it is a lighter, however you hire it for something else. You hire it as a gift.

Knowing your indirect competitors informs where your product is positioned in the market. It will also inform you on what you need to improve to make a better product, like a better competitor to the bottle of wine as a gift.


Have a 100 year plan

If you want to build products and businesses that will be around in 100 years, you’ll have to focus on the emotional jobs your product is hired to do. Functional requirements change with time, but some needs never change. People will always get bored, people will always want to get better at their jobs, people will likely want to hang things on their walls to make their home more personal. If you focus of the underlying motivations not the functional description you’ll be in for the long haul.

Technology and functional requirements change, there will be better, more efficient products that come out. You need to hang a picture on your wall, that means you need a hole, you can drill one, or punch one of just hammer in a nail and hang the picture. Dig for the underlying motivation and build products that help people make progress.


So there you go! What else would you add to the list?

Image Credit: Luke Patton, Lil Squid, Alex Tai, Andrey Vasiliev and Andrew Doane from the Noun Project.

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