Optimization vs innovation as a Product Designer

October 1, 2021
 Min Read

UX Almusal Episode 2 Recap

Episode 2 of UX Almusal talks about optimization versus innovation — how they are different, as well as when and how each is used. It also shares tips on how companies can spur innovation.

Here are 5 lessons from Episode 2:

⚙️ Lesson 1: Optimization relies on data and tests to determine the best design. It asks the question: What will bring value to the current business model? 

Product companies optimize by using data as feedback for iterating on and deciding upon the best design to use. They use tools like Full Story, Lookback, Optimizely, and UserZoom to qualitatively and quantitatively measure how users respond to a particular feature. Using data gathered from these tools, they tweak the product or feature to improve certain metrics. 

How are these metrics chosen in the first place? It’s up to the company to decide. Ideally, they’re those that fit the company’s business model or goals. For example, if a business gives out loans to small businesses, aside from tracking the usual metrics like acquisition, activation, revenue, and referral, it’s important to track repayments as well. And that’s because customers have to pay back their loans.

🏔️ Lesson 2: Innovation is doing something that hasn’t been done yet. It asks the question: Do we have the best possible model in the first place? 

Sometimes, designs couldn’t be further optimized — they have hit the local maximum. The local maximum is a point where you can’t get more out of the design, no matter how many tweaks you make. When this happens, it’s time to try something that hasn’t been done before. It’s time to innovate. Think of it as hitting the ceiling. Once you’ve hit the ceiling, there’s barely enough room for you to grow. So what do you do? You expand the ceiling.

Innovation also means going for the blue ocean instead of the red ocean. Instead of going into a space saturated with competitors, why not go for a space with less competition but with more opportunity? Why settle for a place where you can grow incrementally when you can choose a place that lets you grow exponentially? 

If you just started your business, you’d want to create a new category instead of building another localized version of an established product. That way, you’d have the advantage of a first-mover. Successful companies like Airbnb have thrived off being a first-mover. They’re one of the first to create a marketplace for people to rent homes while other companies only followed suit. 

👫 Lesson 3: Innovation isn’t limited to doing something completely new. 

While it’s exciting to go after a new untapped market, you could also go after a place where people haven’t focused too much on. That’s why innovation isn’t limited to doing something completely new. Rather, there are many paths to innovation. Innovation could mean that you’ve optimized so much that opportunities come your way because of the specific path you’re on, and nobody else can go after that. 

🕵️ Lesson 4: Anyone can innovate for as long as he or she recognizes an opportunity.

Anyone can innovate for as long as he or she recognizes an opportunity, which is usually in the form of a changing market, a weak link in the process or a flow that’s fundamentally broken. Innovation also arises when problems from various disciplines mix together. For example, when designers hand off their designs to developers, the final design doesn’t always look exactly like the original. This creates extra rounds of back-and-forth among designers and developers. The rise of no-code software like Webflow tackles this opportunity — the opportunity of designing and developing a website at the same time. 

It’s also safe to say that the best people who should innovate are those closest or deepest to the problem, because they have context on how much they’ve done before and how much they haven’t done yet.   

🏢 Lesson 5: Companies can embrace innovation, and there are ways to achieve that.

Companies can embrace innovation by abandoning processes that are unnecessary for innovation, including siloed thinking or not having inter-department conversations. It’s highly encouraged to invite people, even if they don’t know what you’re doing because they might see something you haven’t focused on. 

Another tip on how companies can embrace innovation is creating an organization structure that rewards innovation. Rather than framing innovation as a one-time project or an ad hoc activity, innovation must be embedded into the company for it to work.

Lastly, to embrace innovation, companies need to plan when innovations are needed to be taken advantage of. It’s more of having a roadmap of what the company should do, and the roadmap should be informed not by your own intuition or your team’s objectives but by many different sources. 

About UX Almusal

Listen in on discussions about UX, product design, and life from two hungry designers cooking their way to make sense of a messy design world.

Conversations over breakfast may include — product design breakdowns, building design organizations, self-improvement as a designer, and stuff you probably should listen in on if you want to level up as a designer.

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