Designing Better Products and Services with CUPS

Séamus Byrne

Director of User Experience

Over the past 10 years we have witnessed the exponential growth, rapid standardisation and subsequent settling down of User Experience (UX) as a discipline. As UX practitioners, our laundry list of considerations has also scaled up considerably. We are challenged to think about product vision, the business model, value proposition, market segmentation and pain validation. This is even before we tackle our usual UX toolkit activities as we Design better products. The scope has leaped, our framework has peaked, and now it is time for a new approach that can handle the scale of the modern UX practitioners workload.

Illustration representing CUPS, a way to design better products

Uncharted Waters

In this competitive world of continuous improvement and market uncertainty our attention as Strategists and Designers is being drawn towards the customer. They may, or may not, be the end User of the product or service. To verify this our focus naturally swims upstream to discover more about the product definition. We engage with product managers (or similar roles) on the project for guidance. We glean new insight into areas that we may not have experience with. These areas include the value proposition, customer–problem fit and customer–market fit.

Often the further we end up on the business side, the more inconsistencies, uncertainties and out-and-out gaps in the product vision and strategy we discover. At this point a UX practitioner’s critical thinking will kick in, and ponder the best approach to solving the problem with our UX skill set.

CUPS

I have devised an approach which I refer to as CUPS. This helps me to frame and address the inconsistencies discovered in the Product and or Service Design process. Next time you approach a project make sure you have a good understanding and in-depth knowledge of the following 4 areas:

  • Customer
  • User
  • Problem
  • Solution

Customer

Understanding the Customer Persona is very important. When we buy a product there is a value exchange, a unique proposition that fulfils a need. This desirability in the customer can be driven by utility, usefulness or delight. Too often products are filled to the brim with features with the sole purpose of satisfying the sales teams demands to impress prospects in an overly competitive market.

Usually there is not enough definition of the Customer Segment to begin with. Often assumptions are made that the buyer persona is one role. Rather, purchasing decisions are often made by a unit of different roles across verticals and hierarchies.

Users

Sometimes the customers who buy your product are your Users. But often with Enterprise software solutions, they are not! Hence if you are in the area of UX, its most likely your primary goal will be to apply some User Centred Design or Human Centred Design on any project.

What do you do if the product already exists? Focusing on the existing User base to assess the actual quantity, purpose of usage and most popular features is essential. For newer products, prototyping and user validation of the Most Valuable Proposition will ensure early adoption and success.

Problem

In the age of mass ideation stakeholders are comfortable brainstorming like open taps of water. Even more, they are gleeful at chunking sticky notes into different groups which is great to see. The meta problem with this is that the focus of the discovery tends to be on creating solutions that may not be addressing any pain, or assumed pains, of customers and Users. Therefore, the stakeholder currency in workshops can be the best solution idea.

The antidote to this is brainstorming and validating the real problems that your customers and Users face. Identifying their biggest pains and unresolved problems should be the first port of call. This of course should be validated with real people who will buy and use your service.

Solution

Finally, once you have a sense of what the true problems that you are addressing are you can start ideating, defining and validating your solution. This can be done via workshops, prototyping and continuous validation.

You can be assured in the knowledge that the solution will be tuned in to your target personas goals, mental models and genuine pains. This will enhance its chances of success.

A diagram showing CUPS, a way to design better products and services
The CUPS Tetrad by Séamus Byrne

Better Products with CUPS

As UX Designers we are already equipped to problem solve and troubleshoot challenges relating to Users. When we experience Product or Service gaps we should navigate upstream to the Product Managers realm. From there we can work together to define the customer goals and their relationship with Users more clearly.

By spending more time on understanding problems before trying to solve them, we increase the probability of product success by ensuring the focus is accurate and appropriate. The C.U.P.S. approach seeks to provide a structure to help with solving the right problems for customers and Users under the one roof.

Every project at Graphic Mint is driven by finding the best solutions. This, combined with ensuring we have accurate personas, helps to ensure we are fixing a real problem. What is good for the customer is also good for business. If you want to find out more the CUPS approach, or are interested in having us work with you, contact us today.