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The Creative MBA #13
Mental models, simplicity in code, the 4 P's of marketing, modal vs. dialog, and trusting your instincts
It’s a simple exercise; a little logic, a little taste, and the will to cooperate.
Welcome back to Better by Design, the only place on the internet where you’ll learn the difference between ‘modal’ and ‘dialog’ via a Drake meme.
We’re coming up on the first anniversary of publishing Better by Design on Substack (May 13) and I’ve got a bunch of good stuff in the hopper for you. In particular, make sure to tune in on Monday as we kick off a new profile series I’m calling “Masters of Many”, where we’ll highlight the amazing journeys, talents, and wisdom of the multidisciplinary creatives that I know (starting with folks in the Better by Design community!). Some great insights in the first edition. Don’t miss it!
Social & Behavioral Science
While mental models are pretty hot these days in the thought-leadership corner of the internet, I still get blank stares when I bring them up in relation to designing a product. In that case, the key is to align the product with the customer’s mental models.
Creating that alignment requires you to design your offering based on the cognitive frameworks customers use to perceive, interpret, and make sense of the world. Customers' mental models represent their beliefs, expectations, and assumptions about how things should work or behave, which influence their interactions with your business and its products.
Aligning a product to a customer's mental models tends to involve some combination of the following:
User Research: Conducting research to gather insights into customers' needs, preferences, motivations, and behaviors helps uncover their mental models and inform design decisions.
User-Centric Design: Designing products that resonate with the customers' mental models facilitates a smoother user experience, as it builds off of their existing cognitive frameworks and expectations.
Consistency: Maintaining consistency in design elements, terminology, and interactions helps reinforce customers' mental models, making it easier for them to understand and navigate your product.
Iterative Feedback: Testing your designs to gather feedback helps to identify areas where they may not match user expectations and provides an opportunity for improvement.
Education and Support: In some cases, customers' mental models may need to be updated or expanded to fully appreciate and use your product effectively. In that case, provide clear instructions, tutorials, or customer support to help users adapt.
By aligning with customers' mental models, businesses can create experiences that are more intuitive, user-friendly, and ultimately more successful in meeting their target audience's needs and expectations.
Analyze an existing product or service and assess how well it aligns with the target audience's mental models. Identify areas where the design meets user expectations and areas where improvements could be made to better align with their cognitive frameworks.
"Keep it simple, stupid!"
Simplicity is easy to quote but often ignored in strange ways. Perhaps this is because it is the eye of the beholder.
A language which uses fewer basic elements to achieve the same power is simpler.
Sometimes simplicity is confused with 'easy to understand". For example, a two-line solution which uses recursion is pretty simple, even though some people might find it easier to work through a 10-line solution which avoids recursion.
Another classic from Sir Tim on simplicity in code: “Keep it simple, stupid!” 😜 In my own experience as a programmer, the simplicity of my code tended to be inversely correlated to my idea of cleverness: cleverness up, simplicity down, and vice versa. There’s a balance to be found between a solution that’s sufficiently elegant and optimized and the one that’s simply the most understandable regardless of any other concern.
The 4 P’s of Marketing
Last week we introduced the key aspects of value propositions as a combo of features, benefits, and pricing. This week I want to summarize the “4 P’s of marketing” framework that acts as a nice complement. It’s an oldie, but goodie. Simple and to the point.
1. Product: The first P stands for the product or service you offer. It's crucial to create something that not only meets a need but also distinguishes itself from competitors.
2. Price: The second P represents the price at which your product or service is sold. Striking the right balance between affordability and profitability is essential. You should consider factors such as cost of production, perceived value, and competitor pricing to determine the optimal price point.
3. Place: The third P is all about distribution channels; Where can customers access your product or service? It’s good to explore various avenues to help discover your audience’s preferred places to buy.
4. Promotion: Finally, the fourth P encompasses the promotional efforts you undertake to create awareness and generate interest in your offerings. People can only buy the product if they know about it, so it’s critical to find smart ways to get the right message in front of the right potential customers.
Run a quick 4 P’s analysis of a product that you use:
What’s the product?
How do they price relative to their market?
Where do they sell the product?
How do they promote it?
Modal vs. Dialog
Colloquially, people mix these two words up all the dang time.
However, they mean distinct things.
Modal → is when user input goes into an alternate mode
Dialog → is the name of the UI for the overlay window
Modal dialog → is a dialog UI that is modal in nature
Does it really matter if people mess this up? No, not really. But, I’ve found that being more precise in my language goes a long way when building something as abstract as software.
Listen to your instincts
Sometimes, YouTube serves you up something so glorious and adorable that you find a way to work it into the curriculum no matter how much of a stretch it is.
This video shows a rescue beaver building a ‘dam’ with a bunch of human toys and trinkets inside the house where it’s being rehabbed. On top of being extremely cute, I think it goes to show how deeply seated instincts are; you can take the beaver out of the river, but you can’t stop it from building a dam, dammit!
While humans tend to pile a million layers of self-analysis on top of our instincts, they’re still there, buried somewhere deep underneath. So if you, like this beaver, find yourself out of your element maybe just listen to your instincts and go build your dam anyway. Whatever that means to you. 😇 🦫
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