How do you get an idea out of your head and into the world?
- Do you write it down?
- Draw a diagram?
- Perform it via the medium of interpretive dance? (our ideal method, obviously) 🕺
But what if it’s something more abstract and difficult to express, like the possible direction of a digital product?
Regular readers will remember that in a recent article we ran through a fair few methods for breaking away from a’ business as usual’ (BAU) mindset. In it, we plumped for creating a product vision (also known as a visiontype) as our favourite way to help organisations make bold changes.
It turns out there’s a lot more to say about this than we had space for there, so we thought it best to expand and give it a whole article of its own.
It also turns out it’s much more effective than interpretive dance when it comes to sharing a product team’s idea of the future. Best put the leotard away.
What even is a product vision?
Many of us are familiar with setting out a vision for a business, whereby stakeholders articulate where they aspire to the organisation being in three (or five or ten or whatever) years’ time.
It’s pretty simple to get this clear in your mind since the business is a known quantity and an easy thing to conceptualise.
With the future of a product, however, there’s much more need to graphically ‘show not tell’ in order to get everyone on the same page.
Why create one?
As we mentioned before, a product vision is an excellent way to break away from BAU associated stagnation. That’s not all it’s good for though.
Any product team that finds themselves in one – or a few- of the following scenarios should be looking to create something of this sort.
- New markets are beckoning, and exploration around how to capture new user types without alienating existing ones is needed.
- Morale is flagging, with siloed departments needing to be unified and understand what they’re all working for.
- A competitor has popped up where once there was none, and your product needs to self-disrupt before it’s done by the plucky interloper.
- An acquisition or merger means products need to integrate, sunset or streamline at some point.
- An investment round or request for budget is on the horizon, and stakeholders are ready to be wowed.
Scaling new heights: 4 tips for launching your product in a new market
Launching in a new market can be tougher than you’d think, so we’ve shared some tips to help 💪
How ambitious should we be?
Your vision is the north star, not the next iteration.
It shouldn’t be constrained by what’s possible in the present or near future, or form part of the BAU work a product team gets up to.
At the same time though, it shouldn’t be based in abject fantasyland. Something that’s miles outside of even future reality will be exciting for some, but will turn off and disengage anyone who’s not blinded by the bright lights.
There’s a balance to be struck.
Try not to worry too much about the nitty gritty of how the vision will come to fruition. The vision exists to communicate a possible future; working out how to get there can come later if there’s appetite for it.
What format does a product vision take?
A product vision is an outcome in and of itself that asks its audience “should we do this?”
So depending on the nature of the product and organisation, its actual shape could vary quite a bit. From a polished video with animations and narration made to dazzle to an interactive prototype.
For a very technical data product perhaps a product team would go to the extent of showing value with a clickable dummy data set, going deep into one very specific area of functionality.
Whatever communicates best.
It’s important to note too that whilst there’s likely to be a fair bit of design work involved, what’s happening here isn’t actually UX design. It’s something more iconic and simplified.
The product vision is intended to provide value by communicating, not by being a rigorously tested and user validated candidate for launch.
A product vision that showed the ability to log out of an application or to authenticate a user, for example, wouldn’t generate a lot of excitement. They’re the basics, not the stuff of anyone’s product dreams.
An actual product which didn’t consider the functionality of such crucial features though would be an obvious disaster.
That’s the crucial difference. In a sense, the product vision bridges the gap between advertising and product design.
Consider the ads we’ve been spotting in tube stations for our favourite collaboration tool Notion.
In seeing the simplified snippets and context shown we understand the product’s purpose better than if we were looking at the actual interface.
We might also look to Apple’s 1987 Knowledge Navigator video for a bit of inspiration on how ambitious – yet grounded in reality- a product vision might be.
Fun fact, we see elements of HyperCard, arguably the most influential now-obsolete Apple invention, here.
Despite the fact we aren’t sticking anything to the walls or living with a sentient Filofax, as the Apple video star appears to, the communication of the concept resounds in our product vision work.
The well-executed product vision
Despite the different forms and appearances a product vision might have, ones that work well have a few things in common.
- They have boundaries set at the start. That sweet spot between feasibility and futuristic has been met, and the desired outcome, be it ‘impressing investors’ or ‘getting different departments engaged and excited’, has been determined.
- They’re well researched. A vision that can show it’s rooted in actual user need is always going to be more powerful than one that is just the dream of a product team.
- They tell a story. UI assets on their own can’t always convey the entire message. This all comes back to communication, and a sense of articulating what’s going on, rather than just a bunch of nice-looking screens that ask the question ‘do you like this?’ Not very compelling!
A product vision that succeeds is one that gets people talking, thinking and planning about the ideas shown with energy and enthusiasm…all without the interpretive dancer’s need for lycra.