I cannot count how many large-scale projects my team has been a part of where we’re scrambling last-minute to take care of some seemingly small but integral task necessary for launch. I’ve talked to others in the web design and marketing industry; my team is not alone in this launch frenzy. But does that make this odd ritual okay or even acceptable?
The risk when things are missed prior to launch
The worst case scenario? Once live, a project stakeholder notices the missteps and calls out the project team, damaging trust, credibility, and ultimately the relationship.
The worst case scenario for missed items prior to a project launch are when the end user stumbles upon them. This can result in a lost purchase, a drop in satisfaction, and a big impact on the bottom line and perception of the product and/or company. And only 21% of internet users give a brand another chance after a negative experience (Harris Poll, 2017). We cannot afford to get it wrong the first time.
Only 21% of Internet users give a brand another chance after a negative experience (Harris Poll, 2017)
If launch tasks are integral, then why are they commonly overlooked?
What we need is accountability, but accountability cannot exist when there is not a great grasp of what is needed. Many launch tasks are missed not because of their importance but for a myriad of reasons that, when combined, make them hard to spot.
Minimal, small in duration
The task was not accounted for in the project plan, project estimate, or project scope
Lack of ownership
Crunched for time
Save the day with a project launch checklist
A project launch checklist is a document that brings greater visibility to small but important tasks that are often overlooked by project teams. Many of these items are crucial to the project launch strategy but are never formally documented.
This checklist can help mitigate the aches and pains of prior-launch anxiety by assigning ownership and distributing responsibility to the team instead of leaving the burden on the shoulders of one or few.
Identifies all relevant tasks
Sets due dates
But the work isn’t over
In the user-centered design process, it is EVERYONE’s responsibility to ensure a successful launch, not just the project manager or user experience resource. Don’t wait until the last minute to tackle these integral tasks for launching a project.
It’s also important to note that, once the site is launched, our work is not done: There are maintenance tasks and necessary items that need to be checked post-launch as well. Account for pre- and post-launch tasks in all projects for a smooth transition, happy team members, and satisfied clients.
Great resources exist but none that I have found are easily reusable lists. I’ve taken some of these lists—along with my experience—and put together a list that you can copy and make your own. Go ahead, no strings attached! Happy to share it with you.
I drew inspiration for this checklist from many launch resource articles, some of the most influential are listed below.
Email unsubscribe is one of the most dreadful things for any email marketer. After all the hard work you put into a campaign, it is particularly annoying to get your emails unsubscribed.
According to Mailjet, if your unsubscribe rate is below 1%, you are said to be within the industry norm. However, emails sent to new lists—to subscribers who have not received an email from you before—are not included in this calculation because they usually have more unsubscribes. Your industry also influences the number of unsubscribes you get. An agreeable unsubscribe rate is below 0.5%, and you should work on creating better emails if your unsubscribe rate exceeds that.
As I watched the app go live in across the various app stores I felt exhausted.
The steps leading up to the launch had been intense, involving multiple stakeholders, scores of different user personas, and innumerable iteration cycles spread across a multitude of design teams. We shipped the project on time and shared high-fives all around, but after the dust had settled, I realized how truly tired each step of this project had made me.
After the launch, I was all UX’ed out. Even the sight of a Post-It note felt exhausting. Attributing the fatigue to creative block, I planned to take a few days off to recharge. But because my version of “recharge” also means “process everything,” I also decided to write an article for creatives about how to deal with this kind of block.
I blacked out when he said he wanted to underline text so that the site looked more interactive. I couldn’t hear him anymore because of the internal dialogue reinforcing my superiority. “He doesn’t think of the user. He only cares about sales. What kind of stupid idea is that? A really, really stupid one. What happens when someone tries to click the underlined text? Nothing? Awesome plan.”
I was stuck in the room for another 15 minutes, so I decided to play a game called “in what universe is this a good idea?”
I started to think about why he thought this was a suggestion he should even share.
I thought about how you can’t just pretend to be interactive, and then I realized something.
He’s getting feedback from clients. And the feedback is that we’re not interactive. He identified the problem, but dropped the ball on the solution.
As I got over myself, I remembered what I had learned during my MBA program at the Kung Fu Panda School of Business. Kung Fu Panda 2, in particular was the entirety of my education.
<spoiler> At the end of the movie, an adversary puts the panda to the test. He’s outmatched and suddenly finds himself as the target in an attack by cannonballs. When that first cannonball is fired, the panda is fast on his feet and quickly dodges it, but this is not a sustainable way to deal with cannonballs.
Luckily, the panda digs deep into his kung fu training and decides to take on this situation. When the next cannonball is fired, he’s ready. And in fact, he catches it, spins around (and around and around—cannonballs are powerful) and throws the cannonball out into the water. And then, it’s on. Every cannonball that comes at him he catches and throws right back out there. </spoiler>
This was the way I needed to deal with work. Instead of dodging the bad ideas, I need to embrace them. Use the energy from them to do the good work I wanted to do.
When I remembered what the Kung Fu Panda taught me, work got a lot easier. No more would I be fuming in conference rooms, mad at a stakeholder who didn’t “get it.”
Instead, I heard those bizarre requests and tried to harness the energy of them. Once I got to the heart of any issue, I could use my information architecture training to spin it around and toss it back. But instead of throwing back the same cannonball I started with, I’d be throwing back an idea that worked for the user, the product manager, and me.
Just as the panda had to embrace his attack and use his specialty to deal with it, I learned to embrace the solutions product managers wanted me to implement so I could identify the actual problem and come up with a sustainable solution.
One of our finest tasks as designers is to filter the abundance of choice into easily digestible bits. Creating great interfaces is as much about motivating, teasing, leading, and guiding users along—so that they experience value, faster—as it is to improve usability by removing friction. This requires an endeavor into product psychology and the art of designing with purpose and intent.
Stakeholders in design
All design has at least two stakeholders. Otherwise it is not design, but art.
The user. If we fail to acknowledge usability and user needs, no motivation or guidance can help make a product succeed.
The business (or the purpose and intent of the design). If we fail to acknowledge the business, or the change the design was intended to create, the design itself has no meaning. Design without intent will most likely also suffer lack of future sponsorship in the long run.
To cater to both sides of design, I started the journey of mapping and documenting useful psychological insights used by designers. Starting in 2010, the collection has now grown large and mature. Having already documented user interface (UI) design patterns at my site, UI-Patterns.com, catering to usability and user needs, adding persuasive patterns to the site was the perfect addition to also cater to the business side of design.
Removing friction and introducing fun
Having documented useful psychological design principles, I was still struggling to put them to practice with my development teams. Reading up on scores of articles of somewhat complicated psychological concepts was an incomprehensible task for most team members.
I needed to remove friction and introduce fun.
The Persuasive Pattern card deck was created to aid designing with purpose and intent. It is a collection of 54 printed design patterns driven by psychology, presented in a manner easily referenced and used as a brainstorming tool. With a focus on human behavior, each card describes one psychological insight and suggests ways in which you can apply it to your product.
The idea and basic concept is not new. Both Stephen Anderson and Dan Lockton published similar decks back in 2010. Unfortunately, they are now both sold out, nor were they quite the same.
Behind the design
Designing the card decks was a long and winding road that took a little over nine months, ending in a product launch in the spring of 2016.
Although I’m well experienced in web design, I quickly knew my print design skills weren’t going to be enough to create a quality product. I quickly teamed up with a great Copenhagen local print designer, Daniel Prip Pedersen from Voke.
He was intrigued by the idea, but we quickly agreed that we needed to both validate the usefulness of the product and validate the market.
After a few weeks of work, I had transcribed the persuasive patterns documented at UI-Patterns.com that my team and I deemed most useful into bite-size nuggets that would fit on printed playing cards. Daniel had narrowed down the first design style. We printed a small batch that we started using ourselves and sent to friends around Copenhagen, Denmark.
For months, I offered free workshops using the cards to friends, former co-workers, design schools, and universities in Copenhagen. After the first workshop, I wasn’t in doubt that the cards were going to make a useful and even great product. However, the execution of both the product and workshop facilitation needed refinement.
Validating the market
We allowed customers to pre-order the cards via PayPal. Our goal was to validate whether people would actually pay money for the product we had dreamed up.
At that point, we had no clue how much the production costs were going to be, nor a qualified guess of the final price. Once we confirmed demand, we would begin investigating the final production costs. To limit a potential loss, we decided to let the first 100 pre-orders go for $29—a price we later found was lower than our production costs.
To create a controlled test, we sent out a newsletter to 1,000 site subscribers before promoting the card deck elsewhere. With an open rate of 50%, the newsletter created 25 pre-orders. With a conversion rate of 5%, we considered the market validated.
Announcing the project
Earlier in 2015, Christian Perstl had invited me to speak on persuasive design at the 2015 Push Conference. It was the perfect opportunity to officially announce the project to the world. My talk on persuasive design patterns was accompanied with a full day workshop on how to use the cards.
Rigorous testing and continuous improvement of the cards continued throughout the late summer and early fall to make us ready. When time came for the conference, we were confident that we had a useful product as well as a workshop format that showcased the how to use them properly.
To market our cards and gain feedback, I passed around beta decks to conference participants in return for a promise to send back feedback and put the cards to use. Some of the best and most useful feedback came from these people.
While hopeful customers were pre-ordering, we were in full swing perfecting our product. We set up a continuous feedback loop, carrying out a test every 14 days. The test came in many forms: full-day workshops, 2-hour workshops, talks at local meetups, remote testing by universities, and sit downs with good friends.
We learned much about the usefulness of the concept, what cards worked better, what text worked better, and what exercises were deemed most rewarding. Based on feedback from around 80 people, we made several improvements.
Text was shortened, made more precise, and proofread several times.
15 cards from the original persuasive deck were replaced by more suitable alternatives.
We created a pamphlet to go along with the final deck, outlining basic exercises and how to use the deck.
Paper quality was significantly increased from the beta deck to the final deck.
We tried out several coatings and materials, from plastic to paper and from glossy to matte.
Corners were rounded even more to make shuffling easier.
We added illustrations.
One point of feedback kept popping up again and again: “You should have an illustration for each card.” At first, we were reluctant, but after a few tests, we could see how a good illustration helped understanding and sparked ideas instantly. We kept the cards without illustrations for a few months, but finally caved in. We would add illustrations.
We quickly realized that crafting good looking and meaningful illustrations for psychological concepts is harder than you think. Daniel and I each kept a notepad to scribble down illustration ideas and met for several brainstorms. Some ideas were clearly better than others.
Many bad and some good sketching ideas later, we hired a freelancer to make them come to life. When we got the illustrations back from the first freelancer, it didn’t quite match the style we were looking for. We tried another. And another. We were pouring money down the drain.
We finally decided to change our game plan. Instead of relying on our own illustration ideas, we knew we needed to bring in help of someone more qualified—someone who could challenge our thoughts and whose style could add to our product rather than bring it down. Our answer was a Danish artist, Annesofie Sandal, currently living in New York.
Although more expensive than a freelancer, she put a smile on our faces every time a new illustration ticked in our inboxes. Annesofie’s illustrations lifted the overall expression of the cards dramatically. We couldn’t have been happier with our choice.
UI pattern card deck
Through the testing-workshops, it came clear that applying persuasive patterns often led to the implementation of common UI patterns:
The Status-Quo Bias would lead to using the Good Defaults UI pattern
Limited Choice would lead to using Progressive Disclosure
Completion and Sequencing would lead to use of Wizards or the Steps Left UI pattern
Reduction would lead to use of the Forgiving Format UI pattern
Intentional Gaps would lead to use of the Fill in the Blanks UI pattern
Recognition over Recall would lead to use of Autocomplete and Calendar Pickers.
The list goes on.
To get truly great results readily applicable to web design from using the persuasive patterns card deck, we needed to create yet another deck: the UI pattern card deck. I have been documenting user interface patterns since 2007, so the content was almost ready.
Thankfully, UI patterns are easier to illustrate as they represent concrete functionality rather than complex psychological concepts.
Production of the cards
The production of the cards also turned out to be more complex than Daniel and I first realized. Both card decks have five parts: the card, the box, an instructional folder, a set of stickers to decorate your box, and a shipping container that would take all parts safely to our customers.
We had to deal with production in China, shipping to Denmark, customs, and initial batches with stained printing—which all helped to postpone the project a bit more.
Figuring out how to use the cards
Through years of practising UX, I’ve found that both persuasive patterns and UI patterns help establish a shared design vocabulary. By distilling complex concepts of both psychology and user interfaces into digestible bits, alternative solutions are easily communicated, help end feature debates, and spark new ideas.
It’s one thing to build upon a shared understanding of design concepts; it’s another to use them effectively. To help our future users get a head start, I set out to methodically test various workshop exercises. With inspiration from innovation powerhouses like IDEO and Frog Design, from various coaching frameworks, and from workshop participants during testing, these exercise tips produced great results again and again:
Define the behavioral goals of your desired outcome up front. This will ensure that you truly design with purpose and intent.
If you’re stuck, reversing the problem will help you redefine your problem space. If your goal is to get people to spam less, then exploring the question “What if we were to make people spam?” It will help discover alternative solutions, probably closer to the root cause of the actual problem.
Too often, the problem we’re trying to solve isn’t the real problem. Try solving the problem from the opposite perspective. If your problem is to get enough users, then consider what you would do if that wasn’t the case—if you truly did have enough users.
The final product
The final product finally shipped in June 2016, a couple of months late. We are stoked about the final result.
Did you already try them?
If you already got hold of a card deck of your own, we would love to hear how you have used it. We are still discovering new ways to best apply persuasive design and hope to refine our product further in the future. If you have experienced the power of persuasive design, we would love to hear from you to discover new ways to develop our card decks in the future. Drop me a line on twitter.