January 9, 2018

Designing your next Breakthrough Software or Hardware Product

We dissect in less than 500 words how breakthough software happens and what the conversations are like at seat of the table between your design team and your idea-makers.

Written by the Studio Minted Team

Shared on Digital Computer Arts

Unsplash.com boasts over 1 million members and 200 million photos viewed every month. Apart from the beautiful photos and the creative approaches to photography, selfies and landscapes, Unsplash's true claim to fame occurred not because of product development, (though most of the breakthrough products don’t), but made with a Tumblr theme, Unsplash collided two needs: product focus and supplying a need. 

But is there more to this?

Mikael Cho, creator behind Crew and Unsplash and many other "side projects", he looked at photography differently. Creating web products for himself and clients required the use of stock imagery. From 365, Mikael Cho describes a unique phenomenon: "A year ago we needed a photo for the homepage of our company, Crew. We teamed up with a local photographer, Alejandro Escamilla, to take a handful of photos at a nearby coffee shop.

We only used one photo so with the extras we setup a $19 Tumblr theme, a domain, and gave the rest of the images away for free, 'right-click, save-as'.

This was the start of something we never expected to happen: 365 photos, 10 Million Downloads and 5 thousands submissions all in the first couple months".

Is there a unique formula to these types of events? The Documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom in 2013 showcased back-up vocalists and their lives, which sadly are seemingly shaded from the star. The production team came up with a star striking philosophy. These back-up vocalists had a number behind their tone of voice and when hit perfectly behind the main signer that hit a point in the listener's ears that was deemed attracting. In addition, the lesser amount of instruments played was also a factor.

"Our results suggest songs that do not follow conventional instrumentation have the best chance of becoming No. 1 hits," says Joseph Nunes, professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business. "The average song has three to five instruments, but songs that feature a surprisingly low or high number of instruments— at specific points in time-tended to stand out."

Standing out and Jumping in.

Differences in product development are ripe in every Venture Capitalist's (VC) eyes, and the tendency in pitches from startups are to focus on what makes your product different. What makes it stand out? After interviewing 18 designer entrepreneurs it was shown that all of them accounted their success from their unique style and their clients and customers sought after it. "It was interesting that when I published my first UI kits, I focused a ton on a style I thought was in at the time, dark graphs, dark UI, hot color pallets. These didn't do as well as when I sat down and just put my time and heart into the dashboard kit. Dashboards were what I was working on at Tapdaq, and I created these assets on my spare time. It was fun". Jan Loset.

Side projects and spare time are both particular trends that offers more than a diversity of skills on resumes. Unsplash's Mikael Cho spoke that he created side projects to jump start Crew, "We had no money. We changed our business model and had 3 months worth of cash left to turn things around. If we didn’t we were toast. Done. We needed to find customers. But no one knew who we were", Cho spoke in his article How side projects saved our startup that his side project essential created his platform and gave him the jumpstart he need. "We put unsplash.com live and shared the link on HackerNews—a website that lists the best things found on the internet and allows members to vote on the submissions. The HackerNews community is largely made up of designers, programmers and entrepreneurs—an audience we thought might find Unsplash useful. What happened next floored me."

As of June 2016, 2 Million mobile applications were available on the Apple App Store. The decisions for consumers today is not in finding the desired application for their needs. With so much of the same product, the decision for consumers today is finding which one of the applications solves "the why"; an intrinsic question that is innately founded behind consumers choice benchmarks. Brand, features, design, reviews, price, these are all factors that help consumers focus in on "the why" in product decision making.

Design around the "Why"

Simon Sinek, author of "Start With Why", preaches a simple and powerful golden circle scenario that solves consumers decision making, simply. He outlines that its presenting "the why" to individuals that creates particular synapse in the brain to fire. Connecting the dots resembles a favorable understanding not only of the product but of the circumstance, the founder, the favorable reasoning behind the use of the particular product.

Using Sinek's formula depicting the success behind Unsplash is obvious. Unsplash presented "the why" all in one sentence, "Free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos". Seems easy enough. However, the internal product you gain isn't the photos. It is freedom. In addition to the freedom, Unsplash came at a rich time during the digital theme and assets movement. Between 2013 and 2016, Themeforest.com, one of the worlds now largest WordPress, PSD and HTML template marketplace place grew over 240% and now boasts over 27,000 assets today (from Anonymous Themeforest Asset Reviewer). Marketplaces like this sprung up in many different countries, many of which experience similar scenarios.

"Asset share is exciting because it makes creating a product so much quicker. You can get caught in a trap when all of the websites look the same, though", said David Freund, creator of Junto Digital. Creating an online presence for one's new business, service, digital software or piece of hardware can generally come easy today. Creating that difference is difficult.  John Boitnott and Inc Magazine suggest that making your product stand out from the crowd is more than just chanting "the why", or more than what science can adequately predict. "… it's not science, its differentiation. This is because it (Google) differentiated itself from a sea of other search engine competitors over the years. It did this not so much through its capabilities but by how it was presented. This is the type of approach you have to take in marketing your brand in order to stand out" John Boitnott wrote in 6 Ways to Make your Product Stand Out in a Crowded Market.  He presented 6 ways to help achieve this including, Be Human, Focus on Relationships, and Talk to Real People. "The best way to stand out is to take what's already working for you and do it more. Many people are strong at identifying personal strengths", John.

The best answer we can find is that there is no science and there is no formula for success but creating a something that is different seems to be generally the criteria of breakthrough moments. Making these differences seems to fall on an assortment of techniques mainly that rest on the founder and the founding team to execute. We have traveled near and far to outline how to make breakthrough product different and stand out and can confidently rest on 5 key things:

  • Your inner relationship with your team and product
  • Making your product available in multiple mediums and formats means keeping it simple for starters
  • Partnering up strategically
  • Apprehending the Future
  • Just do it, and do it based on your inspiration

Hoping this assists in your product affirmation, the bottom line the Studio Minted team can share is to keep it simple to start out with. Allow all of the intentions speak for themselves.



Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action




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