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Design Your Offering to Be Friendlier to Do-It-Yourselfers

Feb 27, 2008
The people who design offerings are often the worst people to design do-it-yourself directions for beneficiaries, customers, and users. Why? Designers know too much! They can help themselves very easily. But do-it-yourself features aren't going to do much good unless they are easy for everyone to use.

What's a good way to make offerings more do-it-yourself friendly? Prompt the person with what they need to do next.

If you've ever stood behind the lectern at a large event, you may have noticed that the two big sheets of glass at either side of the lectern are actually screens to run the text of a speech. To the audience, these look like slightly unattractive decorations.

To the speakers, there are prompters. If you lose your place in your speech or cannot remember enough to approximate the text, you can glance at the prompter and get back on track. In the same way, you can post prompts for using your offering from beginning to end.

If no one needs the prompts, the prompts will be ignored. If prompts are helpful, they will be eagerly sought out and appreciated when needed.

If possible, make your prompts simple. For example, "yes" or "no" choices help. A computer screen might ask, "Do you want to save the changes you made?" Or for our MP3 player, it might ask, "Do you want to save this recording on your computer?"

If we hit "yes" that would take us into a step-by-step demonstration of what to do next. Each screen would then give us the choice of whether to continue or not. A more advanced set of prompts might allow us the choice not to be asked a particular question again the next time we come through a screen.

A better approach is to make your offering self-sufficient for do-it-yourselfers by designing for simpler use. That may sound like an obvious point, but few organizations put any emphasis on simple use.

Why? Those who work on the project have different objectives. Designers frequently want the offering to appear to be "cool" while the engineers want an elegant design that other engineers will admire. The operating executives want an offering that's easy for them to provide. The accountants want the offering provider's costs to be low. Pursuing such objectives will normally lead to an offering that's unnecessarily complex and time-consuming for beneficiaries, customers, and users to employ.

What's the difference you should seek? Designed-in prompts can take you through a complex process. Make the process simpler to begin with, and you may not need to use any prompts.

For instance, those who want to make voice recordings as their primary use could be offered a different MP3 recorder designed solely for voice recordings that will be e-mailed. This recorder could have buttons resembling those on a tape recorder.

The player's software could then automatically segment the recordings into 15-minute sections for easier handling of the files as e-mail attachments. With the right design a beneficiary, customer, or user would be taking the right steps within a few seconds of popping in the battery. Few would miss going through hours of advance preparation for a recording.

Here's another idea: Have someone who wears reading glasses help design your offering. In the race to miniaturize almost everything, the symbols and words on some devices are becoming microscopic to those who wear reading glasses. All 16-year-olds will do well with the miniaturization, but few people over 50 will be able to make out what's being communicated.

Finally, make your offering more mistake-proof. Have you ever looked at those plug-in sockets at the back of your computer? If not, take a look.

Sometime when your system is off, take out the various wires and inspect how the sockets vary for different devices that are attached to your computer. It looks like someone with a weird taste for modern art has been at work. Actually, the reason is far more practical.

If you make the sockets unique enough, no one will plug a device into a socket that will cause harm to your computer. To speed finding that unique receptacle, you'll usually find that the plugs and sockets are color-coded to aid those who aren't color blind.

In other words, the computer makers realized that most people would be putting their computer systems together on their own. You need to make such a do-it-yourself step foolproof. Otherwise, manufacturers know that they will simply be receiving back a lot of computers that have been destroyed during the installation process.

How can you make using your offerings simpler, more fool-proof, and more fun?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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