In our industry there are a so many attempts to design and launch a digital product like an app or a website. Most of them fail, some spectacularly. And even worse, the majority of fails go unnoticed.

When I think about digital product innovation on a higher level, I see three distinct types:

  1. Innovative services
  2. Innovative content
  3. Innovative user experience

For me, Netflix is an example of an innovative service. Netflix usually does not have the latest blockbuster movies, but they were the first company that delivered a media flat-rate for all your devices. They make it easy to find content you like, with smart features like recommendations and queues.

Another example is the dating app Tinder that introduced a new way of dating. I consider Smart Home solutions like Miele@mobile an innovative service, because it let you do things in a way you couldn't before.

If you want to provide innovative content, you generally have to create the content yourself. This content can be text, music, movies, digital or physical products. So even if you are building bikes for a niche target group, you are producing innovative content. In this case, people in our industry usually build a digital product that only serves one purpose: making the content easily accessible to the target audience.

An innovative user experience was delivered by products like the first iPhone. When you really think about it, all the original iPhone delivered was a new user experience. For example there was no new kind of content that could only be consumed on an iPhone. Apple even proudly announced that Mobile Safari could display the same content as a PC. In addition the iPhone did not introduce any new services. E-Mail, maps, phone calls and messaging – none of that was new. Of course, services like the AppStore or iTunes Radio followed later.

On a smaller scale, apps like Facebook's Paper and the to-do list app Clear are good examples of innovative user experience design. With Paper you are using the same service and consuming the same content as the official Facebook app, but you do so with a less cluttered, gesture-driven interface. The same is true for Clear, but this app also demonstrates another common pattern. User experience design can make the biggest impact in segments that are over-saturated (like to-do list apps).

Whenever you hear people complain about apps that are too complicated or are overloaded with features diverting from the core experience, then take notice. That's an opportunity to create a product that solves things in a whole new way.

So what's my point?

I am convinced that your product can only be successful if you manage to concentrate on innovation in only one of these three areas.

Don't get me wrong: I know that innovation means leaving best practices behind and trying something new. And you need to take risks to be successful, to create something that truly adds value. But making risky decisions repeatedly multiplies your risk; you loose control over the unknown variables and unforeseen dependencies.

For example, designers often base design decisions on whether something is innovative enough. They don't want to look bad compared to designers whose apps get a lot of attention in their field. A similar mentality takes ahold of developers who decide upon a trendy, new programming language or marketers who go overboard with their catchy phrases. We all want to work in a way that we think is cutting-edge.

But say your team is responsible for improving an existing product. It is important that the UX people know that their job is not to reinvent the relationship between humans and machines. They need to focus on researching, testing and IA, and excel at that by bringing tried and tested components together. You don't want to make it harder for users to understand the product by making them learn new interaction patterns.

And when your task is to present dull content in a cool new way, developers should be ready to spend a ridiculous amount of time in fine-tuning animations and reimplementing common UI elements.

To sum it up: put your innovative energy into one area only - service, content or user experience. By leveraging what you know works best, the rest of the product will look pretty innovative, too.

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Karsten Bruns

1999: .html, .php, .js, .css | 2004: .psd, .indd, .c4d | 2010: .app



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