Maine Startup and Create Week: Ask the Right Questions

July 19, 2016 | Branding, Business, Design Basics, Marketing

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This post was written by DeAnne Curran, senior designer and developer here at Visible Logic.

How do you find the right answers for your business? By asking the right questions. While attending Maine Startup and Create Week 2016 recently, I noticed a theme reoccurring in many of the sessions I attended: questions and answers. This year’s overall theme was Design & Innovation. In design school one of the first concepts of design you learn is that, at its core, design is problem solving, which means asking questions and finding solutions. Karl Cyr said in his “Client Management to Client Partnership” talk, “getting a client to think of a problem in a new way is an innovation.” Thinking about something differently involves asking questions, to really dig in and fully understand the problem at hand and the needs of those you’re dealing with. After all, it is ultimately people you are doing business with, not companies.

MSCW keynote Robyn

At the “What Do Users Want?” talk, the panelists discussed how doing market research to collect data can be so valuable. Sometimes simply asking people what they need, or what would be an improvement to their work flow, meant companies were able to make sure that the product or service they where creating  fit their clients’ needs. These questions helped ensure they where marketing in the right places, and the overall product/service was more successful in the end.

In the “Top Tips in Digital UX Design” talk, the panelists talked about how we often refer to people using software as “users.” What was important was to ask about that “user;”  realizing “users” are people and treat them like real humans. Who is that user? How will that user interact with this web site or app? Talking to the customers helped identify patterns for improvement. It turns out that the best tips were not specific skills or tactics around UX solutions. It is often asking simple, important questions that guides us to the best way to improve a user experience.

An interesting workshop, “Increasing Sales by Understanding Your Customer,” the group listened to the problems and challenges of a few of the entrepreneurs in the room. It was amazing to see how, as soon as the problem statement was turned into a question, the answers came so quickly to the group. For example, one person had a product that provided rides to college students; their problem was automating payment. When asked, “who is usually paying?,” it turned out that the parents of the students would be a better fit to be paying for the service. When the speaker, Hajmil Carr, asked, “so how do you reach the parents?,” the ideas and solutions started popping up; figuring out who to ask is really important.

An inspiring design story is that of Robyn Kanner, who asked, “how can I make a hard experience better?” Robyn created MyTransHealth, a web site built to help transgender people locate healthcare providers in their area who are vetted to ensure culturally competent service. By asking this question, Robyn and her team have helped make what can be a very challenging experience, simpler.

So whether working with a client, approaching a new process, or creating something to make peoples lives easier, it all starts with asking questions. Design is often like solving a riddle; you need to understand the question to find the answer.

“Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.”

—Charles Eames, architect and graphic designer

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