When we’re in the market for a new pair of shoes, we’ll usually have a rough anchor of a price we’re willing to pay. For some, it’s £30, others, £300 — but that price is generally what we would consider being “fair value”. That is to say, we’re happy to pay that amount because we feel the value we’re getting from the item is equal to or greater than the value of the shoes.
The same is true for many digital products too — looking at Spotify for example, the idea of paying £9.99 a month is really enticing; because the value of building the same song library a la carte quickly stacks up into the thousands. The equation becomes murkier though when we remove the monetary element.
When we’re using products, we’re paying — if not with money, then with our time (and usually data); something that we can’t assign a numerical cost to, and ultimately will differ from person to person. When considering this from a design perspective, however, I generally index towards placing a high material cost on any interaction or attention to ensure they’re getting equal or greater value from each interaction.
It’s somewhat of an abstract concept in this sense, so I’ll break it down; imagine you’re eating dinner with the family, and you receive a push notification.
One scenario is that notification being a message from a friend, or loved one, that you haven’t heard from in a while. Although not great timing, the interruption and cost to your attention doesn’t feel wasted because you’ve pulled real value from the interaction still.
Another scenario is that the notification comes from a food delivery app, letting them know that “now is the perfect time to order food”. Also not great timing, but the cost to your attention feels significantly higher (despite a much briefer interaction with it).
The tricky thing, however, is that this is all relative — for some people, the push notification about food delivery may have been incredibly valuable; and others, not so much, and there’s no one way to chalk it up.
To deliver optimal value in every interaction, you first have to identify why people downloaded your product in the first place — what’s the key selling or interaction point?
For some products, it’s fairly obvious (we use Spotify for music and podcasts, Netflix for TV shows and movies) — but we need to look beyond the core value, and go deeper into the scenario itself because not everybody is going to use your product in the same way.
For example, some people may use Spotify primarily for podcasts, with a focus on “sleep casts” to help them drift off at night; the most valuable interactions for them are going to fit this narrative, and not be about a “new pop mix” that just dropped.
Creating a sense of fair value exchange is about more than just providing value as you see it, but in building a greater understanding of the lives that people live outside of your product, and respecting the portion they’ve allowed it access to.
I feel like I should be gearing up to a framework, or set of rules, that will encapsulate this thought — but I don’t think it’s that easy or universal, and the crux of it comes down to a change in mindset, and building empathy not just with the persons journey in the product, but the world they live in.
Every industry and every product within it is going to have a different formula; but these are the questions I’ll generally ask myself in the design process:
- Have I fully understood the value people are getting from the product, and the situations in which they may be using it?
- Is this experience/notification/action providing value for the person using the product, or just for the company?
- Are we balancing push and pull mechanisms — do they need to see [x experience] immediately, or can it wait until they open the app next time?
- Are we respecting people’s time and attention?
Relying too heavily on interruptions and push notifications may be an indicator that the product itself isn’t providing significant value to the people using it — and ultimately, that’s the metric we should be building towards.
Everything else will follow.