The first World Product Day took place on May 23, 2018, and events were held around the globe. In New York, ProductTank NYC celebrated by hosting an event at Capital One Labs. Karen Kranack, Intouch’s vice president of user experience, was there and led a panel discussion of product design best practices. The two guest speakers, Vivek Bedi, head of product management at of LearnVest, and Tania Philip, vice president of product at Shutterstock, presented and answered questions about optimizing product design, user testing, best practices and enabling a culture of user-centered design.

If you were unable to be there, no problem. Check out Karen’s key takeaways, along with noteworthy quotes from the panel discussion.

Key Takeaways

  • The best way to improve your products and services is to talk to your toughest critics. For example, at LearnVest (part of Northwestern Mutual), they have a pool of 500 financial advisors they can tap to test new products on.
  • Leverage your influencers — when you want to get the word out, create a pool of those people who are your best allies and get them to spread the word through being included in your early testing and conversations.
  • Talking to your critics and your influencers takes time and effort, but yields dividends as those relationships deepen over time, and the digital products you create are increasingly more useful to those who use them.
  • Sometimes ROI is hard to ascertain in dollar terms, but testing and refinement does result in better products and services, which increases user adoption.
  • Design thinking and a good product-development process is about continual improvement. Updates to products can be large and sweeping, but a better way is to do many smaller releases that make subtle improvements that add up over time.
  • It can be difficult to lay out a roadmap more than 3 months in advance. Companies should set targets and goals, of course, but allow for adjustments to annual roadmaps based on findings from product releases, updates and continual changes.
  • Creating a streamlined product management process requires a lot of internal change management. Employees may actively resist at first, but once they see that roadmaps have been created and the results from collaborative design and user testing, most employees embrace the change in how they work.
  • Ways to get employees excited about design thinking and a new product launches:
    • Prepare your organization for launch.
    • Announce it with frequency.
    • Create a buzz.
  • Better product design requires a more agile development process.
  • Human-centered design considers the full ecosystem that consumers encounter. This means that even if you’re only designing a digital component of that ecosystem, companies must also consider the larger user journey that consumers are taking a part in. Think broadly. Everything is connected.
  • Emotions are important. Look at how people react and FEEL when they use your products and services.
  • Strike a balance between looking at what competitors are doing and innovation. Look at what people are doing around you, but also try new things and test them to see what consumers think.


Notes From the Conversation

Karen: “Talk about some challenges you’ve had in your career around getting companies to adopt a better product-design process”

Tania: “We still go through multiple challenges for it, because companies are feature- and revenue-focused. Many times, an executive team places a lot of value on the features. To them, it’s something to talk about to customers. But to me, you’re not going to move your metrics unless you enable your customers to have a better experience on your site or mobile app through good design. Enable them through the products. As you think about your users and usage metrics, it’s folding in customer experience and tying that to basic KPIs such as increasing conversion, increasing usage activity, etc.”

Vivek: “Even at the executive level, show what the visual can look like [through potential designs]. Subtly scare them by using competitors as examples.”

Tania: “Showcase how better internal efficiency creates better design and a better customer experience.”


Karen: “Can you talk about how you engage your customers to access feedback about what you’re building?”

Tania: “There’s the social media engagement that we have [with customers]. They love to give us feedback. We do a ton of surveys. There are so many tools out there that allow you to do on-site customer engagement. Capture customer email. It’s a great marketing tool to re-engage them and also from a product-design process [standpoint], reach out to them to ask to engage with them in testing. We also enlist them to create communities to get great insight into roadmaps and features people are willing to pay for. We use surveys, social media and unmoderated viewing; we look at people and ask them to walk us through how they’d use our products without asking them questions so we can see their own way of using our product.”

Vivek: “What I’ve found is that we need to be close to the financial advisors as well as the consumers. We have communities we tap into. We use surveys, interview sessions; we’re bringing them in, we’re gathering communities of clients, we have a specific research team where this is what they do all day. We’ll bring clients in and watch them work. We do it virtually or in person. We spend a lot of time focused on those efforts. You may think a button matters, but when a client uses [the product], it may not be so important. We spend a lot of time watching users.”


Karen: How do you go about determining and prioritizing large-scale releases versus small changes?

Vivek: “A good percentage are smaller changes. There are 30 pizza pie teams across our organization working on various changes. We have a weekly meeting. It’s not a meeting where anyone presents. It’s to identify dependencies and whether those teams are talking to each other. A lot is focused on the product teams themselves. We have the north star and vision and roadmaps, but we let the teams take the ships to the port. The other thing I’d say about it: with our 4,000 releases, how do we broadcast the message to our consumers and advisors about these changes? We don’t have that figured out yet, and that is something we’ll struggle with.”

Tania: “For smaller changes, we use a lot of A/B testing and multivariate frameworks. Each team should be testing. We have a set of KPIs and a roadmap. For bigger features, we have north star and vision exercises. We ask, ‘What do the next 1 to 2 years look like?’ We do yearly check-ins around how our competitors change, the marketplace and how we’ve changed. We also do quarterly reviews on what we did and didn’t deliver.  We assess how many sprints it takes to launch certain features and note that. [For example,] we thought it would take two sprints and it took four.”


Karen: You talk a lot about competition and the contradiction between paying attention to competition, but also doing one’s own thing. Do you have a formalized process for how you assess competitors?

Tania: “Product managers do everything, and part of it is understanding competitors and talking to customers. We rely on marketing teams to collate that information and share that. We have shared Slack channels, interesting articles, a repository of competitive analyses, and sales folks also contribute. We get a lot from various departments within our company and share across the company. We put it on the product teams to own the understanding of our competitors.”

Vivek: “Looking at competitors — we’ll get feedback from our field, from angry clients, from marketing as to what our competitors are doing. We try to collate all that feedback into one team and one channel. Product is the one channel that aggregates that from various parts of the organization. And then we take action. We educate the internal teams about what we’re doing and what we’re not doing [in terms of building features] and the reasons behind that.”