Design for life

How do you keep people using your products throughout the different stages of their life? Matt Rook of XO Group Inc has some suggestions

This article first appeared in issue 229 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

For many brands, building a long-lasting bond with a customer parallels building relationships in the real world. Initially, you as the brand need to make a positive first impression in order to convince a potential user to share some of their personal information such as their email address. From there, your relationship together begins to develop. Soon, you’re able to connect with the user to invite them to return to your site.

After a couple of visits you learn more and more about each other as well as develop a level of trust. Over time you learn about the user’s likes, dislikes, habits, and their needs. The conversation naturally turns to topics that you have in common and you personalise your message to be relevant to the user.

For example, if you know they’re keen on the idea of a traditional wedding, then you certainly wouldn’t want to constantly be surfacing pictures of an underwater scuba ceremony. Over time, your user’s interests will change as they enter into a different stage of their life. Ideally, your brand should be able to continue to leverage the bond you have established and anticipate the future needs and interests of the user.

Seamless transition

At XO Group Inc, we believe it’s extremely important to stay focused on the user as you develop products – and even more so when your brand spans multiple life stages.

One of the popular growth paths for our users is to join (the number one wedding planning resource in the US) as they plan their wedding, then transition to either (a website for young couples) for their first home, or (a resource for expectant and first-time parents) for their first child.

To keep your users on board, it’s important to develop platforms that can make such transitions as seamless as possible for them.

So, for example, at XO Group Inc we’ve developed platforms that do the following: enable users to authenticate on any of our sites and automatically access any of the others; give us the ability to know what user’s interests were over time so that we can connect them with better, more relevant information; and enable users to participate in our communities, manage photos, and maintain a public profile across all of our sites in an integrated manner.

Looking back, a key component to the success of these platforms has been our willingness to look toward the future and question what it will have in store. So as you approach your products, ask yourself what would happen if you were to acquire or create another brand. How will the technology you build today be able to support various different scenarios and not just your most immediate needs? How should you design your solutions so they are flexible from both a data and code perspective? Are there additional elements that need to be captured in order to segment data and how does that impact whether it can be shared? Should you structure your platforms in such a way that they can be easily themed or branded differently in the future?

All of these questions deserve consideration and many of the decisions you make initially may have long-lasting consequences for your products.

Forward thinking

To truly be successful a strong brand is absolutely critical. However, it must be partnered with the proper technology.

Always be forward-thinking as you work on your projects and don’t be afraid to think outside of the requirements of today. If you don’t have a plan in place and don’t know what you are building towards then you will inevitably get somewhere but it may not be the right destination.

The technology you build should enable your business to be more flexible, more creative, and take advantage of future opportunities.