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Innovate with meaning

I’m often asked how to approach the process of envisioning, designing and building mobile digital products. In my experience, the conventional feature/functions/benefit paradigm is applied too soon, resulting in bland products that users ignore –or that completely miss that target mark. There is also much debate (usually motivated by financial risk) about how far in front of current demand a design team should go, especially when resources are limited.

My approach to innovation, regardless of budget, is to begin and end with semantics. What will the product or solution mean to the user? The functional benefits may be about efficiency, speed and convenience, but that typically is not why a user comes to trust and depend on a mobile product. There are reasons above the syntactic level that create the user-product bond we strive to achieve. There is one sharp product hook that attaches itself deeply to meaning, and that hook is what you must discover to have a successful product launch.

Begin by filling white boards with expressions of meaning and purpose; with feelings and impressions that flow from experiencing a product that serves meaning first. Think of the personalities, archetypes and behaviors that occur at the point of use and role play those characters, first with team members and then with real target users. Then begin sketching what a product might look like that serves this meaning, and iterate with intensity. By innovating outward from the core of meaning, you are able to see needs that users have not yet expressed or even know that they will desire once you invent it.

As you progress toward MVP, you will naturally become more tactical and ground-level in your thinking. This is where the feature/function/benefit model works best, as it optimizes the design around the core meaning. Be sure to build in checkpoints along the way that confirm the design serves the meaning you have identified.

Sound too dreamy? It’s not, and this type of innovation is magnetically attractive to teams.


Published in technology