Tom, one of our intrepid designers, and illustrator for our book Making Things Special is hard at work illustrating the second volume in the series. Check out Book Jenny being created in front of your eyes. This illustration is for the first chapter which talks about using yourself as your target customer for new products.
We are thrilled to be working in an age where companies who want to excel recognize the need for end-to-end coherent visions of the experience customers will have with not just the product, but every facet of the business. From the outbound marketing, to the sales funnel, to the initial experience with the product or service, to the support experience, and more. Creating a seamless, and consistent experience across every customer touchpoint is hard. And more companies than ever, large and small, are recognizing that they don’t have someone who can do that job. How do we know? Because we work with our clients every day and see them challenge themselves to find this talent in house, or bring it in from the outside. And in many cases, for a time, Jenny and I perform this function for our clients as they build their organization.
We’d love to take credit for this next insight as if it was the result of a deep, intentional, thought exercise. But it wasn’t. Our customers kept asking us if we knew people who could do the role, or in some cases if we wanted to do the role ourselves. And in truth, we do want to do the role ourselves, but, we also love working here at Jackson Fish Market. And that leads to this crazy notion, could companies looking for Chief Product Officers be willing to have them not be fulltime employees? We think the answer should be yes. And here’s why.
Finding True Chief Product Officers is Really hard
The fact is, that people who have a broad and deep knowledge of business, technology, marketing, and design as well as product and people leadership skills are relatively rare. A high quality Chief Product Officer is a high bandwidth communicator with the ability to rally teams as well as collaborate with very senior peers and CEOs. There are plenty of talented people at different roles in organizations. It just happens that the breadth, depth, and seniority required for a job like this means that there just aren’t that many people out in the marketplace who can do the job.
Qualified Chief Product Officers Want to Work on a Broad Range of Offerings
Of the people that have the cross-domain perspective needed in business, design, technology, and a fair amount of human psychology, most of them want to work on a broad range of products and services. These are people with incredible attention to detail, but they also have a zillion ideas they would like to see to fruition. This is why many of them work at agencies. Agencies work on new products all the time and keep the interest level high. Ask yourself a really hard question: does your company really have the breadth and depth of offerings that will keep a qualified CPO interested enough to dedicate all their time to you for several years? For most companies the answer is no. Not because their products aren’t interesting or a good challenge. But it’s simply a matter of scope. Qualified product people really want as broad a scope as possible. Recognize that the narrower your scope, the more it limits the talent you can bring on board full-time.
Chief Product Officers Create DNA, Build Teams, and Get Out of the Way
It’s true that there is an important, engaged, and ongoing role for a Chief Product Officer. Steering the ship requires a constant hand on the wheel. But the companies we work with are not building sailboats. They’re building aircraft carriers. Great CPOs create a value system, genetics for an organization. And while they make sure that the products reflect those values, even more importantly, they make sure that everyone in the organization lives and breathes those values. Because products and services that are expansive and impactful almost never get made by individuals — they get made by teams. If the CPO builds a team that needs their guidance every day, then the CPO has failed at building a great team. But once they do build that great team, their job is to get in the backseat, periodically point to the destinations where they should be heading over the long term, but let the team execute execute execute.
Chief Product Officers Need Every Political Advantage They Can Get
It’s not just the scarcity of talent for this position that should make you consider the compromise of having a CPO that’s not a full-time employee. There are actually advantages to having them be from the outside. When a company is looking for a CPO, it’s often because they’re ready for a change. Change can be hard. And change can be especially hard at the top of the various fiefdoms as every potential change is laden with the calculations of how those changes not only benefit the company, but the careers of the people involved. Bringing a CPO from the outside means their advice is exempt from the usual political fears that come with change from permanent employees. And that means they can make change in an organization much more quickly, efficiently, and collaboratively because they are not building empires, they’re measured solely on doing the heavy lifting of a new CPO.
So given that really great Chief Product Officers are hard to find, want a broad range of responsibilities you may not be able to offer on your own, and that over time great Chief Product Officers build organizations that run without much interference, we believe that bringing on someone who’s not a full-time employee to be your Chief Product Officer is actually a credible solution to a really hard problem (and as we mentioned above there are even advantages). Even now, when we work with clients, we focus on one major client at a time. This is because the heavy lifting of defining a new product, a new set of values, recruiting a team, and delivering that product to customers does require that kind of focus and attention. But over time, the daily interaction required turns more into weekly interaction required. We see our engagements with clients tail off in just that fashion on a regular basis. We think of it as having taught the team to fish, rather than just fed them a single meal no matter how delicious it might be.
And finally, we believe that the world is moving to a new model where full-time vs. contract employment is really a mirage. We’re all temporary. We’re all doing a gig. We’re all here for what Reid Hoffman from LinkedIn calls a “tour of duty” in our jobs. We sign up for a tour, and then hopefully sign up for another.
We at Jackson Fish Market, Jenny Lam and Hillel Cooperman (that’s me), humbly offer ourselves for this purpose. We have a very particular set of skills, and we are ready to be your Chief Product Officer or Chief Design Officer. We only mention this because in effect, this is the work we already do for many of our clients. Perhaps, it’s time you considered having us do it for you.
When you design software for a living like we do here at Jackson Fish Market, it’s hard not to look at the software you use every day and imagine how you might tweak it yourself given the opportunity. As an app developer, who’s had one or two modestly popular apps, a few that did ok, and a bunch that collected dust, we are very familiar with the excitement and disappointments of Apple’s iOS app store as both developers and users. The app store is wildly popular and considered the gold standard in terms of third party app marketplaces. But it has problems.
In the early days of the app store, unknown developers rocketed to the top of the charts with wildly innovative apps that looked gorgeous and offered us whole new categories of functionality. The gold rush ended years ago for the overwhelming majority of small developers, and now the charts are stuffed with big players raking in big bucks, while the long tail of developers are never to be heard from after their brief appearance in “What’s New”.
We believe, that Apple and the small developers trying to break through are aligned when it comes to adding more quality apps to the app store. We have no doubt that if Apple could flatten the curve a little bit and let smaller developers have a decent living wage, even at the expense of Clash of Clans making a little less money, they would in a hearbeat. It’s in Apple’s best interest to have as many developers making a living as possible with a diverse and high quality set of apps. But having that goal is different than making it a reality. What do you do when the 300 pound gorillas rise to the top and suck all the oxygen out of the room?
With absolutely no permission from Apple and zero inside information we’ve decided to take a stab at some tactics that Apple might use to achieve this goal. You might say that proposing solutions to Apple on this front takes some degree of arrogance on our part. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Apple has world class designers who are thoughtful and talented and have no doubt explored this problem quite well. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun exercise for us to do the same. But please know, we do this with utmost respect for the folks at Apple who’ve been chewing on this problem for some time. We have no doubt they’ve explored all our ideas below and others. But they don’t get to share those, and we do. :)
With that context out of the way, let’s get to the fundamental problem: How do you get users to try new apps in a world where the ones they have are good enough? Trying new apps often has a learning curve. Sometimes there are actual costs (sometimes they are hidden though perhaps slightly less so these days as Apple tells you in advance which apps monetize via in-app purchases). Trying new apps is time consuming. And how would you know to try a new app when there are millions of apps in the app store, but only the top couple of thousand are featured in the various charts, lists, and curated guides in the app store?
Suggestion #1: Hidden Gems
We have charts for the top selling apps, the top grossing apps, and the top downloaded apps. But what if we had a chart for the apps that haven’t been downloaded a ton, but are getting used like crazy by the few folks that have downloaded them? Apple knows not just when apps are installed but when they’re removed as well. Why not use all that data to reward apps that have been downloaded, not removed, and are generating minutes of engaged usage by their tiny but loyal fanbase?
Suggestion #2: On Quit
[TRIGGER WARNING — putting ads for apps in the OS, but outside the app store]
Putting what essentially constitutes an ad for an app you don’t have currently installed outside the app store is dangerous territory to be sure. But before you dismiss this entirely, read on. (After all, this is just a thought exercise, so let’s explore all kinds of thoughts!) There is a time when you’re in between contexts, and letting you know about a new app may be appropriate for your current state of mind. And there’s a convenient tiny spot to put just such an ad. Today, when you navigate away from an app by hitting the home button, there is a very fast animation that shrinks and fades the app away as the home screen appears. What if that transition revealed a small ad for an app you might like based on the app you were just using? And what if that ad showed up in the convenient notification space Apple has already reserved at the top of the screen? The recommendations could be done a la Amazon (“People who used this app, also used this app.”). The ads wouldn’t impede the user from doing what they were already going to do and would only appear periodically and never interfere with a notification you’ve already opted into. They would also of course disappear after a couple of seconds.
Suggestion #3: App Dating
One of the things we imagine the App Store designers fantasize about is that exploring the app store would be a fun activity. Something you did periodically just to see what’s new, like browsing a newsstand or a record store. And there is probably a single digit percentage of iOS users who do just that (and it’s probably a higher percentage for games). The question is, how do you make that experience more engaging, more rewarding, and more pervasive. One thought we had was stealing a page from Tinder (and the dating apps that preceded it). What if there was Tinder for apps built right into the App Store? Swipe right to install, swipe left to banish. Not only would users get exposed to a lot of new apps in a short amount of time, but Apple could track right and left swipes and understand which apps are doing a good job enticing users to install them and use that data to improve recommendations. Of course, for apps that cost money, there would be a confirmation/TouchID moment, but for the plethora of free apps, a simple right swipe would add the functionality to your home screen with no further interaction needed.
Suggestion #4: Celebrity Curation
We live in a celebrity and social media driven culture. Apple is turning to more curation to feature unknown apps in the app store. Why not get even more focused and resonant with users by mining their Facebook and Twitter accounts for the celebrities they follow and then work with those celebrities to create curated App Stores within a Store. We chose Katy Perry as our celebrity recommender.
Suggestion #5: What Are Your Friends Using
And since we’re mining Facebook data, why not recommend apps based on what your friends are using? Apps only used by a couple of your friends would be excluded to allay privacy concerns. But we know that people’s social networks are huge influencers of what consumers’ purchase. Why not leverage it? Facebook on mobile is doing gangbusters business recommending apps for download. Apple should be eating into that pie by offering the functionality natively in the app store.
Suggestion #6: App Usage Analytics
Marketers and engineers are vociferous users of analytics to understand customers in a wide variety of ways. We believe that many customers are just as interested in seeing detailed charts, graphs, and numbers for their own behavior. Think of it as FitBit for your app usage. You could even have a sort of “thumbprint” of your app usage “personality” appear at the top showing what kind of user you are. (Whether you share that or not would be your choice.) You could understand which apps you use, see recommendations based on your favorites, and even see which apps you don’t and should consider removing.
Suggestion #7: On Remove
OK, if you barfed on suggestion #2, you may want to hold your nose on this one. But bear with us… we think that a good suggestion from the app store in this scenario could potentially be real value add functionality. In suggestion #2 we considered letting you know about new apps when you quit an app. But there’s another point when you may be even more strongly considering going to an app you may not even know about yet – that’s when you remove an app from your device. “Don’t like the app you just removed? Let us recommend a couple of others to do the job better.”
That’s just a few of the ideas we mulled on how to help users find apps that may not make it to the top of the charts. We’re sure there are other good ones too that we didn’t illustrate. As a technology brand and design consultancy, we deal with challenges like this every day for our clients and in our own software. Of course, the iOS App Store, is one of the biggest stages there is in which to experiment with new techniques for encouraging users to explore new apps from third party developers. That said, since the platform is so big, the stakes are that much bigger if you screw it up. The designers at Apple no doubt have a “first do no harm” mantra, as they should. This after all is the price of success. Luckily, since we’re just making our suggestions from the outside looking in, we have no such constraints. We also don’t work for Apple so we don’t need to keep our ideas off the internet. :)
No doubt Apple and others will keep tackling this problem. We hope that someone cracks it as coming up with good design that exposes the hard work and new ideas of small creators is something I think we would all be happy to see.
This is one of a series of posts describing some of the projects we would love to work on. As a holistic digital design firm, Jackson Fish Market is very fortunate to have really bright clients come to us with super interesting projects on a regular basis. But rather than wait for them to come to us, we figured we might let the world know which projects we’d love to work on. Each of these ideas is something we’re passionate about. And for each we have a deep set of ideas to help make them a reality. So if one of these is something you’re thinking about, call us. We’d love to help.
The way we discover, purchase, and consume music has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. There has been plenty of time for the software that we use to listen to music to evolve in that time. And it has, except in the single most important area when it comes to really improving the experience of listening to music – playlists.
Now, we understand that not all people depend on playlists to organize their music. But for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll think of playlists in the broadest sense. Whether it’s a “saved song” on Spotify, a thumbs up on Pandora, favorited something on SoundCloud, or just a purchased song on Amazon or iTunes, we consider it all a declaration of intent on the part of the consumer that *this* track is part of their library of music. Of course, there’s a wide variety of behavior patterns within that broad definition. Some people just have one big list of music in which they’ve expressed an interest, and others have detailed and organized playlists for every occasion and mood.
In our opinion, the single biggest problem with the way we consume music is the lack of playlist portability. And the music software and content vendors know this. None of them have any incentive to change this. Vendors *want* “lock-in”. For example, Amazon has a distinct disincentive to let purchasers of books on the Kindle platform to move their books to the iBooks platform. Now especially when it comes to content, the technology providers have a convenient excuse in the form of the content providers. The licenses are often written with so many stipulations that the content owners want you to repurchase your content over and over again for each new format, on each new device.
Unfortunately, this only has the effect of distancing the connection of the consumer from the content owner. The consumer doesn’t feel a connection withe a content owner who wants to charge them over and over again for the same thing. The content owners, should want to “own” the relationship with their consumer. And in cases where the content owners are the artists themselves, that’s often what we see happening.
Now, imagine for a moment, a service that keeps track of all the music I love. All of it. A soundtrack from a movie, the latest pop album, an old out-of-print piece of Jazz vinyl, some indie EDM, old mp3s from a now defunct band that I downloaded off of mp3.com before they too became defunct, a thumbs up for a track on pandora, etc. Imagine a service that keeps track of all of this music that I love and enjoy. And now imagine that this same service can check the status of my licensing relationship with each of these tracks by checking iTunes or Amazon or my Spotify subscription status. And now imagine that wherever I am, on any device, in any location, this service will do its best to serve up the music that I love from any available source.
Not on your hard drive? Here it is from YouTube. Not on Spotify? How about we create a Pandora station of similar music where it’s likely to show up.
We know there are ham-fisted attempts at solving this problem today. iTunes Match is spotty and often doesn’t work. Amazon has given me access to ripped versions of every CD I’ve ever purchased on Amazon. Spotify (and just about everyone) will import and/or feebly synchronize with my local iTunes folder. Of course, if Spotify doesn’t have something, even if I own it, Spotify won’t roam that track.
Despite these efforts that in our opinion have fallen short, the technology to solve this problem is quite the opposite of rocket science. The business deals to make this happen are extraordinarily difficult. Or are they?
We wonder: What would happen if a kernel of this software was built, and if that kernel was able to show the magic of having your musical preferences be universal instead of siloed. Would that software gain enough momentum to help break down some of the licensing issues?
One final note. We know that a standard playlist/preference format and exchange/sync protocol is another way to solve this problem. In other words, there doesn’t need to be one master silo to replace all the others if we build a set of open bridges between all the services. But that path seems even less likely to us.
If you’re looking to create something like this, and would like an excited team to help you design the identity, the hardware, the software, and the marketing experiences, don’t hesitate to let us know.
Human beings like boxes. Specifically, we like putting people, and things, and companies into boxes. As in, you’re this kind of person, and you’re that kind of person. As in, your company does this, and your company does that. In the simplest terms, we here at Jackson Fish Market are a design firm. We design experiences. These experiences span everything from the identity of a company or product to its marketing collateral, to its physical presence, to its software, to its support experience. We look at them all as being holistically connected, and when done right, all contributing to create a genuine emotional connection between the creators of the business, and the business’ customers. That is our purpose.
While we’ve talked about it a little bit before, when we’re not working hard for our clients, we’ve set aside a micro-team to work on a video game. So the question is this: Why would a software design firm create a video game? At first blush, it doesn’t seem to fit. But to us, it does. Let me explain.
For us here at JFM, we strive to create user experiences that are effective at creating emotional connections between the makers of a product or service and their customers. The experience in the broadest sense, is a bridge between the two groups. The wider, shorter, and more comfortable that bridge is, the deeper the connection is between the two groups. For us, even though our gaming experience and active gaming practice is completely across the board when it comes to our team, we are all in sync in terms of where game design fits into the overall pantheon of holistic interactive design. In our opinion, interactive game design is the highest form of our art.
Services like Netflix, or Facebook, or Uber all have high points in their user experiences (and some low points). And while their design is definitely a benefit for each of them, each also provides a core service that people really really desire – an instantly available good movie, connection with friends and family, and a quick ride without any hassle, respectively. In other words, as users, sometimes we will put up with small or even large speed bumps in their experiences because their core service is so desirable. But when it comes to a video game, there is nothing but the experience. There is nothing but the design. The user experience and the game are one. If the design gets in the way, then the game is not fun. And I don’t need to play the game to get home. I don’t need to play the game to do my job. In fact, often, spending time playing a game is a luxury that takes time away from doing something that’s probably more important.
A video game needs to immediately and unequivocally connect on an emotional level with a user and satisfy their craving to be entertained. It needs to do so in multiple dimensions at once. And abandoning it for another one is as easy as disposing of a piece of chewing gum. This purity of form, and this disposability, means that designing a video game that people fall in love with is the most difficult thing a designer in our field can do.
We are proud of the work we’ve done. Proud of the work we do for clients, and on our own products. But not a day goes by when we don’t long to improve. Not a day goes by when we don’t strive to elevate ourselves to be better designers, better communicators, and better storytellers.
We’re proud to (re-)announce that we are making a video game – Drey Duncan and the Haunted Hotel.
Drey Duncan, a newly minted graduate of the Columbia University graduate school of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation spent her last savings going to school to learn how to preserve the old buildings she loves. A city law firm comes looking for a grad student to evaluate a property in the city – a gorgeous art deco hotel, built in 1930, that opened for one weekend, and has been closed ever since. At first Drey says no. She’s fresh out of school and has no experience taking on such a big job. But after losing her only source of income, Drey has no choice, and accepts the gig. What will she find? Why did the hotel close? How could a beautiful hotel remain untouched for over 80 years in the middle of Manhattan? These are the questions Drey will try to answer on her first adventure.
Stay tuned to this blog where we’re going to be incredible transparent about the entire process of creating this game. And in the meantime, meet our hero: Drey. :)