A Practical Guide to Create a Concept

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A good concept comes from a good idea. But how do you actually create a concept from your initial idea? It sounds daunting at first, it truly does, because where would you start? To ease your pain, I have created a guideline that should help you through the process, both in theory as in practice.

A Good Idea vs a Good Concept

Far too many times I came across a user story stating the following: “As a marketing manager, I would like to test x, so that we sell more y.” Other than the user story, nothing else is given. Just this one phrase. As you can see, not that much useful information. It might be a good idea (no one really knows at this moment), but it’s certainly not a concept with which other people, such as Product Managers or UX Designers, can work.

An idea, a concept and execution.

To execute an idea, you need to take it apart and look at all these little blocks separately.

The Story of David, Emma and a Feature

Meet David, a marketing manager from a little e-commerce company, called Nisolino, selling handmade leather shoes. David has a great idea. He would like to test a online feature which allows people to configure shoes to their personal taste and ship it to their home address.

David’s “configurator” includes 2 type of shoes: Sneakers and a Classic model. People can choose the size, color, leather type, laces and the sole.

Let’s just assume that Nisolino is capable of creating personalised shoes on demand. They have the necessary manpower (how many is uncertain) and enough leather in stock (how much is uncertain).

The next step for David would be to sit down with Emma, the product manager of the company. Emma has so many detailed questions about his idea and David seems to have all the answers at first.

So what is wrong? Did David ever stop and ask himself whether Nisolino’s visitors really needed this feature? Why did he come up with only 2 type of shoes and not 4? Why sneakers and a classic model and not boots for example? Does David know what the customer is looking for? Why not this, why not that?

When diving deeper into the topic of the configurator with Emma, more questions arise and they are not being answered for the simple reason that David didn’t look farther than his initial idea.

“A good idea doesn’t necessarily make it a good concept.”

The Right Questions

In order to come up with a good concept, you should always ask the correct questions up front. It’s absolutely imperative to ask those questions from the end user’s perspective. In Nisolino’s case, the end user is the customer and not David, Emma or any other business stakeholder.

To measure and improve the User Experience of the customers, you need to know as much as possible about the behavior and attitude of the customer and what they are trying to achieve (their goals). Asking the right questions will not only give you better insights, but ultimately a better means in decision making.

Try to change the user story from the customers’ point of view. It will give you a different perspective.

Who is the Customer?

Through which channel did she land on your website? Did she bounce immediately? Which pages did she visit? How was her interaction on those pages? What did she click? Is she a first time visitor or has she been visiting the website before? Has she bought anything from the store before? What is her gender and age? All this information forms the customer.

As long as David doesn’t know who she is, even hypothetically, he’s acting on his gut feeling. Data Driven Design is what you really need.

In practice

  • Check your data, for example Google Analytics
    • Where did the user come from? Check both external (eg. Search Engine Marketing 30%, Direct 60%, Newsletter 10%) as internal sources.
    • Which of these users had the highest bounce rate? Do we know why?
    • Were those users new or returning and what is their ratio?
    • What is the female/male ratio?
    • What did they click when coming from the previous page?
  • Segment your audience and define those User Groups
    • eg. When more people are coming through display, you might have more inspirational users on your page.
  • Check Customer Surveys
    • Check customer survey results.
    • Add those learnings from the survey to the user groups, when possible.

What is the Goal of the Customer?

Based upon the behaviour of the customer, we might know more about the actual goal she was trying to reach.

  • Was she only clicking on products, using the navigation or search and didn’t stay too long on the page without scrolling? Maybe she’s just interested in finding the right product for her as soon as possible.
  • Did she land on a ‘Inspirational page’ through a search engine? What keywords did she use? How long did she stay on that page? What other pages did she navigate to? Did she leave without checking the products?
  • Was she spending a lot of time on the category pages? Did she use the pagination a lot? Maybe she likes to browse through the products without having anything in mind.

Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. If you know who she is and where she’s coming from, you might know why she is on that page.

In practice

  • Brainstorm about the possible goals from the customer’s perspective, keeping their background in mind.
  • Add these goals to each and every user groups you’ve created.

Steve Mulder, author of “The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web” gives an excellent tip to find out the actual goals of your customers while performing usability testing. Ask her 5 times why! You will get something like this:

Me: What are you doing right now?

The User: I’m trying to figure out what a build-in heel means.

Me: Why are you trying to do that?

The User: I’m trying to learn about the differences in heels.

Me: And why is that?

The User: Because I want to buy a new pair of shoes.

Me: Why?

The User: Mainly because I love to change shoes once in a while.

Me: Why?

The User: I just think I’d be happier.

Somewhere in the middle is the right level of specificity for describing the goals of your users.

What problem / Pain Point would she encounter?

How was she blocked from reaching her goal? Define the problem and try to be as detailed as possible.

In practice

  • Replicate the steps that the user had in mind by following exactly the same steps.
    • Session recording and heat map tools, such as Mouseflow will give you some great insights as well.
  • Document on which page and step she was blocked.
  • What did they expect to happen instead?
  • Check Customer Service reports. They could have already reported this problem.

What are the Possible Solutions?

Very simple. List all possible solutions that would solve the customer’s problem. Ask other people in your company to help out. Maybe they have a different solution in mind.

Would your Solution solve her Problem?

You know the customer, the goal and the problem. You have listed all possible solutions with the customer in mind. Now it is time to decide which solution would be the best fit. If you are not sure or there is no agreement within the team, you can take multiple solutions but try to limit those.

  • How do you know that your solution would solve the problem for her?
  • To what degree would it solve her problem?
  • Would it impact other user groups? If so, would it be a negative or a positive impact?

How will we Measure the Impact of your Solution?

What are the KPI’s? Do these KPI’s relate to the goal people had in mind? Keep in mind that Conversion Rate, Click Through Rate or ROI is not always the correct KPI. What about ease of use, bounce rate, time on task etc?

Have you thought about usability testing in an early phase? Testing now could mean reducing risks in a later stage.

In practice

  • List the KPI’s.
  • Measure the KPI’s.
  • Think about Usability testing, guerilla style.

The User Flow

You have already gathered a lot of information when defining the user groups. Now it is time to visualise the flow of your customers through the website.

In practice

  • Google Analytics offers a “Behaviour flow”, which can be used for the Customer Journey.
  • Start by naming the page where the problem occurred.
  • Add all pages which are part of the journey and map the movement (traffic) between these pages.
  • Visualise the traffic per channel and/or per user group.
  • Again, session recording tools can help out.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Would like to know more about creating a user flow? ConversionXL has published a great guideline.

The Customer Journey

The Customer Journey describes at a high level of detail exactly what steps/actions users take to complete a specific task (goal). Mapping the customer journey also helps you in locating possible problem areas or opportunities.

Customer Journey

Azmina Karimi created this customer journey when auditing an auto repair shop.

Test the Solution

How will you test the hypothetical solution? Can you measure the impact somehow with the chosen KPI’s?

In practice

  • Test the hypothesis in a Usability Testing session.
  • Should you perform an A/B test?
    • If so, client-side or server-side?

Conclusion

To create a great concept, you take your initial idea, perform the necessary research, include a brainstorming session within your team and create hypothesis. Follow this guideline and try to answer all these questions from a customer’s perspective. Verify this with actual data, perform user interviews and put your ideas to the test against your personas. Only then will you have all the insights you’ll need to create a great feature!

If you do not have any personas set up, start with that right now. The book of Steve Mulder, which I have mentioned earlier, is an excellent starting point!

Note that not all questions mentioned in this article should or can be answered and not every answer should come from David or Emma.

Do you have a different approach to concept building? Let us know with a comment!

Paul Olyslager

Paul is the creator, editor and most regular writer of paulolyslager.com. He's also working as UX Lead for Home24, a leading online shop for furniture and home accessories, based in Berlin, Germany. Read all about Paul or find him on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.
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