10 Practical Tips for Increasing the Impact of Your Research Insights

Written by: Mike Katz

User experience (UX) researchers tasked with improving customer-facing products face many challenges on a daily basis—perhaps none more daunting than translating their research insights into positive change. This article presents 10 tips I have learned over the course of my career to help UX researchers increase the impact of their research insights in applied settings. These tips are intended primarily for in-house research teams, but they may apply to consultancies as well.

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Method Mondays: Never Stop Learning

Written by: Ann-Sofie Ruf

Benjamin Franklin once said: “Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I learn.”

At the SAP Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC), we frequently organize the so-called “Method Mondays,” a regular one-hour meeting series in which the team members share, practice, and test different methods.

In this article, I would like to share the five methods with you that work best for us—they’re worth trying!

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Your Guide to Online Research and Testing Tools

Written by: Bartosz Mozyrko

The success of every business depends on how the business will meet their customers’ needs. To do that, it is important to optimize your offer, the website, and your selling methods so your customer is satisfied. The fields of online marketing, conversion rate optimization, and user experience design have a wide range of online tools that can guide you through this process smoothly. Many companies use only one or two tools that they are familiar with, but that might not be enough to gather important data necessary for improvement. To help you better understand when and which tool is valuable to use, I created a framework that can help in your assessment. Once you broaden your horizons, it will be easier to choose the set of tools aligned to your business’s needs. The tools can be roughly divided into three basic categories:

  • User testing: Evaluate a product by testing it with users who take the study simultaneously, in their natural context, and on their own device.
  • Customer feedback: Capture feedback of customer’s expectations, preferences, and aversions directly from a website.
  • Web analytics: Provide detailed statistics about a website’s traffic, traffic sources, and measurement of conversions and sales.

To better understand when to use which tool, it is helpful to use the following criteria:

  • What people say versus what people do… and what they say they do
  • Why versus how much
  • Existing classifications of online tools

The possible services are included at the latter part of the article to help you start.

What people say versus what people do… and what they say they do

What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are three entirely different things. People often lack awareness or necessary knowledge which would enable them to provide correct information. Anyone who has any experience with user research or conversion rate optimization and has spent time trying to understand users has seen firsthand that more often than not user statements do not match the acquired data. People are not always able to fully articulate why they did that thing they just did. That’s the reason it’s sometimes good to compare information about opinions to information on behavior, as this mix can provide better insights. You can learn what people do by studying your website from your users’ perspective and drawing conclusions based on observations of their behavior, such as click tracking or user session recording. However, that is based on the idea that you test certain theories about people’s behavior. There is a degree of uncertainty, and to validate the data you’ve gathered, you will sometimes have to go one step further and simply ask your users, which will allow you to see the whole picture. Therefore, you can learn what people say by reaching out to your target group directly and asking them questions about your business.

Why versus how much

Some tools are better suited for answering questions about why or how to fix a problem, whereas tools like web analytics do a much better job at answering how many and how much types of questions. Google Analytics tells you the percentage of people who clicked what thing to through to what page, but it doesn’t tell you why they did or did not do that. Having knowledge of these differences helps you prioritize certain sets of tools and use them while fixing issues having the biggest impact on your business.

The following chart illustrates how different dimensions affect the types of questions that can be asked:

chart illustrates how different dimensions affect the types of questions that can be asked.
Source: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/which-ux-research-methods/

Choosing the right tool—infographics

There are a lot of tools out there these days that do everything from testing information architecture and remote observation. With more coming out every day, it can be really hard to pick the one that will give you the best results for your specific purpose. To alleviate some of the confusion, many experts tried to classify them according to different criteria. I decided to include some of examples for your convenience below.

Which remote tool should I use? By Stuff On My Wall

A flow chart to evaluate remote tool choices.
Source: http://remoteresear.ch/moderated-research/

Choosing a remote user experience research tool by Nate Bolt

Another chart showing evaluation criteria for remote research tools.
Source: http://remoteresear.ch/categories/

The five categories of remote UX tools by Nate Bolt

Five categories of user research tools.
Source: http://remoteresear.ch/categories/

Four quadrants of the usability testing tools matrix by Craig Tomlin

Usability testing tools arranged in a quadrant chart.
Source: http://www.usefulusability.com/14-usability-testing-tools-matrix-and-comprehensive-reviews/

Tool examples

The examples of tools which I list below are best suited for web services. The world of mobile applications and services is too vast to be skimmed over and has enough material to be a different article completely. The selection is narrowed down in order to not overwhelm you with choice, so worry not.

User testing

User testing and research is vital to creating a successful website, products and services. Nowadays using one of the many existing tools and services for user testing is a lot easier than it used to be. The important thing is to find a tool or service that works for your website and then use it to gather real-world data on what works and what does not.

Survey: The most basic form of what people say. Online surveys are often used by companies to gain a better understanding of their customers’ motives and opinions. You can ask them to respond in any way they choose or ask them to select an answer from a limited number of predetermined responses. Getting feedback straight from your customers may be best used in determining their painpoints or figuring out their possible needs (or future trends). However, what you need to remember about is that people do not always communicate best what is exactly the issue they are facing. Be like Henry Ford: Do not give people faster horses when they want quicker transportation—invent a car.

Examples:
Typeform
Survey Gizmo

Card sorting: It focuses on asking your users to categorize and sort provided items in the most logical way for them or create their own possible categories for items. These two methods are called respectively closed and open card sorting. This will help you to rework the information architecture of your site thanks to the knowledge about the users’ mental models. If you aim to obtain information that balances between “what they do” and “what they say”, sorting is your best bet. Be sure to conduct this study in a larger group – some mental models might make sense, but aren’t the most intuitive for others. Focus on the responses that are aligned with each other, as it is possibly the most representative version of categories.

Examples:
ConceptCodify
usabiliTEST

Click testing/automated static/design surveys: This lets you test screenshots of your design, so you can obtain detailed information about your users’ expectations and reactions to a website in various stages of development. This enters the territory of simply gathering data about the actions of your users, so you obtain information about what they do. The study is conducted usually by asking a direct question: “Click on the button which will lead to sign-ups”. However, remember, click testing alone is not sufficient enough, you need other tools that cover the part of “why” in order to fully understand.

Examples:
Usaura
Verify App

5-Second testing/first impression test: Because your testers have only five seconds to view a presented image, they are put under time pressure and must answer questions relying only on almost subconscious information they obtained. This enables you to improve your landing pages and calls to action, as users mostly focus only on the most eye-catching elements.

Examples:
UsabilityHub
Optimal Workshop Chalkmark

Diary studies: An extensive database of all thoughts, feelings and actions of your user, who belongs to a studied target market. All events are being recorded by the participants at their moment of occurrence. This provides insights into firsthand needs of your customers, asking them directly about their experiences. Yet, it operates in a similar fashion to surveys, therefore remember that your participants do not always clearly convey what they mean.

Examples:
FocusVision Revelation
Blogger

Moderated user studies/remote usability testing: The participants of this test are located in their natural environment, so their experiences are more genuine. Thanks to the tools and software there is no necessity for participants and facilitators to be in the same physical location. Putting the study into context of a natural/neutral environment (of whatever group you are studying) gives you insight into unmodified behaviours. Also, the study is a lot cheaper than other versions.

Examples:
GoToMeeting
Skype

Self-moderated testing: The participants of the test are expected to complete the tasks independently. After that you will obtain videos of their test sessions, along with a report containing information what problems your users were facing and what to do in order to fix them. The services offering this type of testing usually offer the responses quickly, so if you are in a dire need of feedback, this is one of possibilities.

Examples:
Uxeria
UserTesting

Automated live testing/remote scenario testing: Very similar to remote testing, yet the amount of information provided is much more extensive and organized. You get effectiveness ratios (success, error, abandonment and timeout), efficiency ratios (time on task and number of clicks), and survey comments as the results.

Examples:
UX Suite
Loop11

Tree testing/card-based classification: It is a technique which completely removes every distracting element of the website (ads, themes etc.) and focuses only on the simplified text version. Through this you can evaluate the clarity of your scheme and pinpoint the chokepoints that present problems to users. It is a good method to test your prototypes or if you want to detect a problem with your website and suspect the basic framework is at fault.

Examples:
UserZoom
Optimal Workshop Treejack

Remote eye tracking/online eye tracking/visual attention tracking: Shows you where people focus their attention on your landing pages, layouts, and branding materials. This can tell you whether the users are focused on the page, whether they are reading it or just scanning, how intense they are, and what is the pattern of their movement. However, it cannot tell you exactly whether your users actually do see something or do not, or why exactly do they look at a given part. This can be remedied for example with voiceovers, where the participants tell you right away what they feel.

a) Simulated: creates measurement reports that predict what a real person would most likely look at.

Examples:
VAS
Eyequant

b) Behavioral: finds out whether people actually notice conversion-oriented elements of the page and how much attention they pay to them.

Examples:
Attensee Eyetrack Shop

These are the singular features which are prominent elements of the listed services. However, nowadays there is a trend to combine various tools together, so they can be offered by a single website. If you happen to find more than one tool valuable for your business, you can use services such as UsabilityTools or UserZoom.

Customer feedback

Successful business owners know that it’s crucial to take some time to obtain customer feedback. Understanding what your customers think about your products and services will not only help you improve quality, but will also give you insights into what new products and services your customers want. Knowing what your customers think you’re doing right or wrong also lets you make smart decisions about where to focus your energies.

Live chats: an easy to understand way of communicating through the website interface in real time. Live chat enables you to provide all the answers your customers could want. By analyzing their questions and often inquired issues you can decide what needs improvement. Live chats usually focus on solving an immediate problem, so it is usually used for smaller issues. The plus is the fact that your client will feel acknowledged right away.

Examples:
LiveChat
Live Person

Insight surveys: They help you understand your customers thanks to targeted website surveys. You can create targeted surveys and prompts by focusing them on the variables such as the time on page, the number of visits, the referring search term or your own internal data. You can even target custom variables such as the number of items in a shopping cart. However, they are very specific and operate on the same principle as general surveys, so you must remember about the risk that the survey participants won’t always be able to provide you with satisfactory answers.

Examples:
Survicate
Qualaroo

Feedback forms: They are a simple website application to receive feedback from your website visitors. You can create a customized form, copy and paste code into your site’s HTML, and start getting feedback. This is a basic tool for getting feedback forms from your customer, and receiving and organizing results. If you want to know the general opinion about your website and the experiences of your visitors (and you want it to be completely voluntary), then forms are a great option.

Examples:
Feedbackify
Kampyle

Feedback forums: Users enter a forum where they can propose and vote on items which need change or need to be discussed. That information allows you to prioritize issues and decide what needs to be fixed as fast as possible. The forums can be also used for communicating with users, for example you can inform them that you introduced some improvements to the product. Remember, however, that even the most popular issues might be actually least important for imrpoving your serive and/or website, it is up to you to judge.

Examples:
UserVoice
Get Satisfaction

Online customer communities: You refer to your customer directly, peer-to-peer, and offer problem solving and feedback. Those web-based gathering places for customers, experts, and partners enable you to discuss problems, post reviews, brainstorm new product ideas, and engage with one another.

Examples:
Socious
Lithium

There are also platforms that merge some of the functionalities such as UserEcho or Freshdesk which are an extremely popular solution to the growing demands of clients who prefer to focus on single service with many features.

Website analytics

Just because analytics provide you with some additional data about your site doesn’t mean it’s actually valuable to your business. You want to find the errors and holes within your website and fill them with additional functionality for your users and customers. Using the information gathered you can influence your future decisions in order to improve your service.

Web analytics: all movement of the users is recorded and stored. However, their privacy is safe, as the data gathered is used only for optimization, and the data is impossible to be personally identified. The data can be later used for evaluating and improving your service and website in order to achieve your goals such as increasing the amount of visitors or sales.

Examples:
Mint
Mixpanel
KISSmetrics
Woopra
Google Analytics

In-page web analytics: They differ from traditional web analytics as they focus on the users’ movement within the page and not between them. These tools are generally used to understand behavior for the purposes of optimizing a website’s usability and conversion.

a) Click tracking: This technique used to determine and record what the users are clicking with their mouse while browsing the website–it draws you a map of their movements, which allows you to see step by step the journey of your user. If there is a problem with the website, this is one of the methods to check out where that problem could’ve occured.

Examples:
Gemius Heatmap
CrazyEgg

b) Visitor recording/user session replays: Every action and event is recorded as a video.

Examples:
Inspectlet
Fullstory

c) Form testing: This allows you to evaluate the web form and identify areas that need improvement, for example which fields make your visitors leave the website before completing the form.

Examples:
Formisimo
UsabilityTools Conversion Suite

In a similar fashion to the previous groups, there is also a considerable amount of analytic Swiss army knives offering various tools in one place. The examples of such are ClickTale, UsabilityTools, or MouseStats.

Conclusion

This is it—the finishing line of this guide to online research tools. It is an extremely valuable asset which can provide important and surprising data. The amount of tools available at hand is indeed overwhelming, that is why you need to consider the listed factors of what, why and such. This way you will reach a conclusion about what exactly you need to test in order to improve your service or obtain required information. Knowing what you want to do will help you narrow your choices and in result choose the right tool. Hopefully, what you’ve read will help you choose the best usability tools for testing, and you will end up an expert in your research sessions.

A Beginner’s Guide to Web Site Optimization—Part 3

Written by: Charles Shimooka

Web site optimization has become an essential capability in today’s conversion-driven web teams. In Part 1 of this series, we introduced the topic as well as discussed key goals and philosophies. In Part 2, I presented a detailed and customizable process. In this final article, we’ll cover communication planning and how to select the appropriate team and tools to do the job.

Communication

For many organizations, communicating the status of your optimization tests is an essential practice. Imagine if your team has just launched an A/B test on your company’s homepage, only to learn that another team had just released new code the previous day that had changed the homepage design entirely. Or imagine if a customer support agent was trying to help users through the website’s forgot password flow, unaware that the customer was seeing a different version due to an A/B test that your team was running.

To avoid these types of problems, I recommend a three-step communication program:

  1. Pre-test notification

This is an email announcing that your team has selected a certain page/section of the site to target for its next optimization test and that if anyone has any concerns, they had better voice them immediately, before your team starts working on it. Give folks a day or two to respond. The email should include:

  • Name/brief description of the test
  • Goals
  • Affected pages
  • Expected launch date
  • Link to the task or project plan where others can track the status of the test.

Here’s a sample pre-test notification.

  1. Pre-launch notification

This email is sent out a day or two before a new experiment launches. It includes all of the information from the Pre-Test Notification email, plus:

  • Expected test duration
  • Some optimization tools create a unique dashboard page in which interested parties can monitor the results of the test in real-time. If your tool does this, you can include the link here.
  • Any other details that you care to mention, such as variations, traffic allocation, etc…

Here’s a sample pre-launch email.

  1. Test results

After the test has run its course and you’ve compiled the results into the Optimization Test Results document, send out a final email to communicate this. If you have a new winner, be sure to brag about it a little in the email. Other details may include:

  • Brief discussion
  • A few specifics, such as conversion rates, traffic and confidence intervals
  • Next steps

Here’s a sample test results email.

Team size and selection

As is true with many things, good people are the most important aspect of a successful optimization program. Find competent people with curious minds who take pride in their work – this will be far more valuable than investment in any optimization tool or adherence to specific processes.

The following are recommendations for organizations of varying team sizes.

One person

It is difficult for one person to perform optimization well unless they are dedicated full-time to the job. If your organization can only cough-up one resource, I would select either a web analytics resource with an eye for design, or a data-centric UX designer. For the latter profile, I don’t mean the type of designer who studied fine art and is only comfortable using Photoshop, but rather the type who likes wireframes, has poked around an analytics tool on their own, and is good with numbers. This person will also have to be resourceful and persuasive, since they will almost certainly have to borrow time and collaborate with others to complete the necessary work.

Two to three people

With a team size of three people, you are starting to get into the comfort zone. To the UX designer and web/data analytics roles, I would add either a visual designer or a front-end developer. Ideally, some of the team members would have multiple or overlapping competencies. The team will probably still have to borrow time from other resources, such as back-end developers and QA.

Five people

A team that is lucky enough to have five dedicated optimization resources has the potential to be completely autonomous. If your organization places such a high value on optimization, they may have also invested accordingly in sophisticated products or strategies for the job, such as complex testing software, data warehouses, etc… If so, then you’ll need folks who are specifically adept at these tools, broadening your potential team to roles such as data engineers, back-end developers, content managers, project managers, or dedicated QA resources. A team of five would ideally have some overlap with some of the skill-sets.

Tool selection

The optimization market is hot and tool selection may seem complicated at first. The good news is that broader interest and increased competition is fueling an all-out arms race towards simpler, more user-friendly interfaces designed for non-technical folks. Data analysis and segmentation features also seem to be evolving rapidly.

My main advice if you’re new to optimization is to start small. Spend a year honing your optimization program and after you’ve proven your value, you can easily graduate to the more sophisticated (and expensive) tools. Possibly by the time you’re ready, your existing tool will have advanced to keep up with your needs. Also realize that many of the cheaper tools can do the job perfectly well for most organizations, and that some organizations with the high-powered tools are not using them to their fullest capabilities.

A somewhat dated Forrester Research report from February 2013 assesses some of the big hitters, but notably absent are Visual Website Optimizer (VWO) and, for very low end, Google’s free Content Experiments tool. Conversion Rate Experts keeps an up-to-date comparison table listing virtually all of today’s popular testing tools, but it only rates them along a few specific attributes.

I performed my own assessment earlier this year and here is a short list of my favorites:

Entry-level
Visual Website Optimizer (VWO)
Optimizely
Google Content Experiments
Advanced
Maxymiser
Monetate
Adobe Test & Target

Here are a few factors to consider when deciding on products:

Basic features

Intuitive user interface

Luckily, most tools now have simple, WYSIWYG type of interfaces that allow you to directly manipulate your site content when creating test variations. You can edit text, change styles, move elements around, and save these changes into a new test variation. Some products have better implementations than others, so be sure to try out a few to find the best match for your team.

Targeting

Targeting allows you to specify which site visitors are allowed to see your tests. Almost all tools allow you to target site visitors based on basic attributes that can be inferred from their browser, IP address, or session. These attributes may include operating system, browser type/version, geographical location, day of week, time of day, traffic source (direct vs. organic vs. referral), and first time vs. returning visitor. More advanced tools also allow you to target individuals based on attributes (variables) that you define and programmatically place in your users’ browser sessions, cookies, or URLs. This allows you to start targeting traffic based on your organization’s own customer data. The most advanced tools allow you to import custom data directly into the tool’s database, giving you direct access to these attributes through their user interface, not only for targeting, but also for segmented analysis.

Analysis and reporting

Tools vary widely in their analysis and reporting capabilities, with the more powerful tools generally increasing in segmentation functionality. The simplest tools only allow you to view test results compared against a single dimension, for example, you can see how your test performed on visitors with mobile vs. desktop systems. The majority of tools now allow you to perform more complicated analyses along multiple dimensions and customized user segments. For example, you might be interested in seeing how your test performed with visitors on mobile platforms, segmented by organic vs. paid vs. direct traffic.

Keep in mind that as your user segments become more specific, your optimization tool must rely on fewer and fewer data points to generate the results for each segment, thereby decreasing your confidence levels.

Server response time

Optimization tools work by adding a small snippet of code to your pages. When a user visits that page, the code snippet calls a server somewhere that returns instructions on which test variation to display to the user. Long server response times can delay page loading and the display of your variations, thereby affecting your conversions and reporting.

When shopping around, be sure to inquire about how the tool will affect your site’s performance. The more advanced tools are deployed on multiple, load-balanced CDNs and may include contractual service level agreements that guarantee specific server response times.

Customer support

Most optimization vendors provide a combination of online and telephone support, with some of the expensive solutions offering in-person set-up, onboarding and training. Be sure inquire about customer support when determining costs. A trick I’ve used in the past to test a vendor’s level of service is to call the customer support lines at different times of the day and see how fast they pick up the phone.

Price and cost structure

Your budget may largely determine your optimization tool options as prices vary tremendously, from free (for some entry tools with limited features) to six-figure annual contracts that are negotiated based on website traffic and customer support levels (Maxymiser, Monetate and Test & Target fall into this latter category).

Tools also vary in their pricing model, with some basing costs on the amount of website traffic and others charging more for increased features. My preference is towards the latter model, since the former is sometimes difficult to predict and provides a disincentive to perform more testing.

Advanced features

Integration with CMS/analytics/marketing platforms

If you are married to a single Content Management System, analytics tool, or marketing platform, be sure to inquire from your vendor about how their tool will integrate. Some vendors advertise multi-channel solutions (the ability to leverage your customer profile data to optimize across websites, email, and possibly other channels, such as social media or SMS). Enterprise-level tools seem to be trending towards all-in-one solutions that include components such as CMS, marketing, ecommerce, analytics, and optimization (ie. Adobe’s Marketing Cloud or Oracle’s Commerce Experience Manager). But for smaller organizations, integration may simply mean the ability to manage the optimization tool’s javascript tags (used for implementation) across your site’s different pages. In these situations, basic tools such as Google Tag Manager or WordPress plugins may suffice.

Automated segmentation and targeting

Some of the advanced tools offer automated functionality that tries to analyze your site’s conversions and notify you of high-performing segments. These segments may be defined by any combination of recognizable attributes and thus, far more complicated than your team may be able to define on their own. For example, the tool might define one segment as female users on Windows platform, living in California, and who visited your site within the past 30 days. It might define a dozen or more of these complex micro-segments and even more impressively, allow you to automatically redirect all future traffic to the winning variations specific to each of these segments. If implemented well, this intelligent segmentation has tremendous potential for your overall site conversions. The largest downside is that it usually requires a lot of traffic to make accurate predictions.

Automated segmentation is often an added cost to the base price of the optimization tool. If so, consider asking for a free trial period to evaluate the utility/practicality of this functionality before making the additional investment.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous page loading

Most tools recommend that you implement their services in an asynchronous fashion. In other words, that you allow the rest of your page’s HTML to load first before pinging their services and potentially loading one of the test variations that you created. The benefit of this approach is that your users won’t have to wait additional time before your control page starts to render in the browser. The drawback is that once the call to the optimization’s services is returned, then your users may see a page flicker as the control page is replaced by one of your test variations. This flickering effect, along with the additional time it takes to display the test variations, could potentially skew test results or cause surprise/confusion with your users.

In contrast, synchronous page loading, which is recommended by some of the more advanced tools, makes the call to the optimization tool before the rest of the page loads. This ensures that your control group and variations are all displayed in the same relative amount of time, which should allow for more accurate test results. It also eliminates the page flicker effect inherent in asynchronous deployments.

Conclusion

By far, the most difficult step in any web site optimization program is the first one – the simple act of starting. With this in mind, I’ve tried to present a complete and practical guide on how to get you from this first step through to a mature program. Please feel free to send me your comments as well as your own experiences. Happy optimizing.

Mystical guidelines for creating great user experiences

Written by: Tal Bloom

The Jewish Torah teaches that the Creator created our world through ten utterances–for example, “let there be light.”

The Jewish mystical tradition explains that these utterances correspond with ten stages in the process of creation. Every creative process in the world ultimately follows this progression, because it is really a part of the continual unfolding of the world itself, in which we are co-creators.

This article aims to present an overview of the mystical process of creation and principal of co-creation and to illustrate how it can guide bringing digital product ideas into reality–although it’s easy enough to see how this could translate to other products and services–in a way that ensures a great user experience, and makes our creative process more natural and outcomes more fruitful.

And a note as you read: In Jewish mysticism, the pronoun “He” is used when referring to the transcendent aspect of the Creator that is the source of creation, and “She” is used when referring to the imminent aspect that pervades creation, because they are characterized by giving and receiving, respectively. Because this article discusses the relationship of the transcendent aspect, the masculine pronoun has been used.

The process of creation

Ten stages, four realms

Ten stages, four realms
The order of creation

The ten stages in the process of creation progressively create four realms.

Three triads create three spiritual realms, and the tenth stage creates our tangible reality, which is the culmination of creation. It is understood that creation becomes increasingly defined and tangible as the creative power flows from one realm to the next. When we participate in creation, our efforts naturally follow the same progression.

The four realms are traditionally referred to by Hebrew terms, so to make things easier I’ll refer to them using a designer’s day-to-day terms–ideation, design, implementation, and operation.

Before we dive in though, one more thing to note is that within each realm there is a three-stage pattern whereby the creation first becomes revealed, then delineated, and finally consolidated in a state of equilibrium. Hang in there, you’ll shortly see what this means.

The realm of ideation

In the beginning there was only the Creator, alone.

In the first three stages of creation, He simply created the possibility for a creation. This corresponds with the generation of business ideas.

Just as before there was anything else it had to arise in the Creator’s mind to create the world, so too, the starting point of all products and services is the emergence of an idea–a simple and common example of which is “a digital channel will help our customers connect with us.”

Next, the seed sprouts a series of details to define it. In creation, the details included the fact that creation will be limited and that there is an order to its unfolding. In business, the idea undergoes an extrapolation to define its reach and scope. For example, “the digital channel will need product information, a shopping cart, a customer database, and a social function for customers’ reviews.”

The third stage in the process of creation is the preparation for bridging the gap between the abstract realm of potential where the Creator is still effectively alone, with a new reality of seemingly separate creations. Correspondingly, in business the third step requires bringing the idea from a place of theory to a point that it can be shared with others, such as presenting to decision makers and stakeholders, or briefing agents and consultants.

The realm of design

Now that it’s possible to distinguish between the Creator and His creation, the next three stages serve to coalesce the homogenous creation into spiritual templates. This corresponds with the conceptual design of how the business idea may be realized.

The first stage in this realm is an expression of the Creator’s kindness, as He indiscriminately bestows life to all of creation. Correspondingly, the design process begins with telling the end-to-end story of the idea, from the user discovering the new product or service through to their consummate pleasure in using it, without our being too concerned with practical considerations. This could be captured in business process diagrams, but human-centred user journey maps or storyboards have proven more natural.

Next, the Creator expressed His attribute of judgement to establish the boundaries of His evolving creations. In business, we begin addressing practical considerations, such as time, budget, and technical constraints to define the boundaries of the concept. This generally involves analyzing the desired story to establish the finite set of practical requirements for realizing it. For digital products, the requirements are often closely followed by a business case, an information architecture, and a system architecture.

As mentioned, the third stage is where a consolidated state of equilibrium is reached to form the output of the realm. In creation, mystics describe the culmination of this realm as being sublime angels who are only identified by their function–for example to heal or to enact justice–and consider them to be the templates for these attributes, as they become manifest in the lower beings.

Similarly, we consolidate the business idea by sketching or prototyping how we envision it will become manifest. Typically we deliver low-fidelity interaction, product or service designs, which are often accompanied by a business plan and functional and technical specifications.

The realm of implementation

Using the spiritual templates, the next three stages serve to create individualized spiritual beings. This corresponds with implementing our conceptual designs into an actual digital product.

In creation, the life-force is now apportioned according to the ability of the created being to receive, similar to pouring hot liquid material into a statue mould. Correspondingly, we apply branding, colors, and shapes to bring the blueprint to life–the result being high-fidelity visual designs of what the digital product will actually look and feel like.

Next, the life-force solidifies to form the individual spiritual being, similar to when the hot liquid cools and the mould can be removed. This corresponds with slicing the visual designs to develop the front-end, developing the database, and integrating the back-end functionality.

The culmination of this realm is often depicted in artwork and poetry as being angels that have human form, wings, and individual names. They are, however, still spiritual beings, not physical beings like us. Correspondingly, at the final stage of implementation, there exists a fully functional digital product…in a staging environment.

The realm of operation

The culmination of the process of creation is our tangible reality, which is comprised of physical matter and its infused life-force (part of which is our physical bodies infused with our souls). Bridging the infinitely large gap between the spiritual and physical realms is often considered the most profound step in the process of creation, yet paradoxically it’s simultaneously the smallest conceptual distance from a spiritual being that looks and functions like a physical being, and an actual physical being.

Correspondingly, launching a digital product into the live public domain can be the most daunting and exciting moment, yet it can be as easy as pressing a button to redirect the domain to point to the new web-server or to release the app on the app store.

At this point the Creator is said to have rested, observing His creation with pleasure. Similarly, it can be very satisfying to step back at this point and soak in how our initial seed of an idea has finally evolved into an actual operational reality–which will hopefully fulfill our business goals!

The principle of co-creation

User feedback

By now we can appreciate why there seems to be a natural and logical sequence for the activities typically involved in creating a new product or service. Jewish mysticism, however, unequivocally adds that we are co-creators with the Creator. That is: We, created beings, are able to influence what the end product of creation will be, just like users can influence our products and services when we engage with them during the creation process.

Jewish mysticism relates that the Creator consults with His retinue of angels to make decisions regarding His creation. This corresponds with our soliciting user input to validate the direction of our creative efforts, such as:

  • during ideation, conducting research to ensure the ideas indeed meet users’ needs and desires;
  • during design, conducting user validation to ensure the sensibility and completeness of the story, correlation of the framework with users’ mental models, and usability of the blueprints; and
  • during implementation, conducting user testing to help smooth out any remaining difficulties or doubts in the user experience.

We are also taught that the Creator is monitoring human activity and makes adjustments accordingly. Similarly, at the stage of operation, it’s good practice to steer the finished product to better achieve business goals by monitoring the usage analytics.

Finally, we’re taught that the Creator desires our prayers beseeching Him to change our reality, similar to how we’ve come to understand the most potent consideration is user feedback on the fully operational product.

Continual improvement

On the surface it still seems as though the process of creation is a cascading “waterfall,” but we see that our world is constantly evolving–for example, more efficient transport, more sophisticated communication, more effective health maintenance–seemingly through our learning from experience to improve our efforts. In a simple sense, this can be likened to the “agile” feedback loop where learnings from one round of production are used to influence and improve our approach to the next round.

Jewish mysticism teaches, however, that under the surface our genuine efforts below arouse a magnanimous bestowal of ever-increasingly refined life-force into the creation. This can be understood as similar to a pleased business owner allocating increasingly more budget to continue work on an evidently improving product or service.

These days, it is becoming more common for businesses to implement a continuous improvement program, whereby an ongoing budget is allocated for this purpose. The paradigm of continually looking for ways to more effectively meet user needs and achieve business goals–such that they can be fed back into the process for fleshing out the idea, designing, and then implementing–perfectly parallels the reality that we are co-creating an ever more refined world using ever-deepening resources.

But how can a compounding improvement continue indefinitely? Jewish mysticism explains that as the unlimited creative power becomes exponentially more revealed within our limited reality, there will eventually come a grand crescendo with the revelation of the Creator’s essential being, which is neither unlimited or limited, but both simultaneously. This will be experienced as the messianic era–“In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know their Creator.”1

Users front of mind at every stage

Before we get there, however, it can be seen from the above how every stage of the creative process has a unique effect on the user experience of the end product or service, such that it would bode well if we strive to ensure:

  1. The initial business idea meets an actual need or fulfils an actual desire of our users
  2. The concept is designed to function according to the user’s understanding and expectations
  3. The product or service is implemented in a way that is appealing and easy to use
  4. The operating product or service is continually improved to meet users’ evolving needs

By knowing each stage and each skill set’s proper place in the sequence and how to incorporate our learnings and user sentiment, we can achieve a more natural creative process for ourselves, our peers, and our clients and ensure the end product or service offers the best possible user experience, indefinitely.

Creative activity Co-creation activity Output
Ideation Innovation brainstorms
Idea prioritization
User research User pain points
Idea pitch/brief
Design Business analysis
Requirements analysis
Card sorting
Interaction design
User focus groups
User interviews
Tree testing
User walkthroughs
User journeys/storyboards
Product requirements
Information architecture
Wireframes/prototype
Implementation Visual design
Front-end development
Back-end development
Content preparation
User testing Staging product
Operation Product launch
Product maintenance
Analytics
User feedback/surveys
Live product
Ideas for improvement

References and further reading

  1. Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Melachim uMilchamot, Chapter 12, Halacha 5, by the Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon