Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Symptoms, Solutions and Products

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The other day I heard a good way of categorizing products but it needed more work. While it was a very simple way of defining a product, it didn’t go any deeper. I had to think hard about the products I develop; and rethink how to describe the features and requirements. This lead, ultimately, to rethink the ambitions as well.

Products are remedies. They treat symptoms, have side-effects and are potentially (hopefully) habit-forming. Now I have an easy to understand list of points to address, as well as a framework for answering critical questions that otherwise lack structure and guidance. This lets me tackle each step clearly and with an agenda.

Clearly define the symptoms

We seek a remedy in response to experiencing symptoms. We have defined symptoms with a variety of causes. Products are remedies, but not for an underlying cause; products treat symptoms.

If there isn’t a well-defined symptom, there isn’t a well-defined product.

This doesn’t mean that the end-user can describe the symptoms or even the desired remedy. As someone building products, this is my responsibility. Without framing the discussion any product will be susceptible to feature creep, whims and that carries through and is evident to the user.

By clearly defining the symptoms a product will remedy, clarity in my thoughts has increased dramatically. This is invaluable, it forces me to fully contemplate on what I am really solving. The singular focus the end-user will benefit from is a side-effect, I’m really solving my own feelings of aimless thinking.

Speaking of side-effects

Any remedy has side-effects. Products, too. Either they cost money, involve a time investment (sometimes just time wasted) or the worst: using the product itself is just frustrating. Without paying attention to these, both opportunities and problems are being ignored.

List out the side-effects of the product. This can be daunting, as people naturally shy away from the negative side of things. Remember all the pharmaceutical commercials. People will consume a remedy even with disastrous side effects. As long as the remedy is worth it the side effects can, and will be, excused.

Just because the user excuses them doesn’t mean that you, as a product developer, can ignore them. After this exercise is done, it’s trivial to compare the side-effects against the resolved symptoms. Another benefit of this is a list of side-effects to remove in future versions. Possibly even creating follow-up products as new remedies to the very side-effects your product created!

With the symptoms defined, the side-effects listed the product will simply be better. And a better product will have happier users. Happy users stick around longer.

Is it habit-forming?

A habit-forming product is exactly what any product developer wants. Simply reliving a symptom does not create a habit, though. That takes a little something extra.

Habits are hard to create. More so when they’re being created in someone else. Yet many people succeed. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and many others have spawned hundreds of copy cat products. Those products don’t ever form habits, though.

Why not? Perhaps an imbalance. Resolving a symptom that not enough people suffer from, or the side-effects aren’t worth the remedy. More importantly, you have to look at how people are dealing with those symptom without your product.

The real habits, though, are the products that create the symptom as they resolve it. This is the holy grail of products. The Instagrams and Facebook have solved this. Now people can’t eat a meal without feeling compelled to tell and show people. The symptom and remedy, all in one.