Last week was Philly Tech Week here in the City of Brotherly Love. Lots of cool and important things happened (like the world’s largest video game) and also I gave a talk. PhilaMade hosted the event and beer was involved. Also speaking were: John Gruber, Yesenia and Katie of Happy Cog, and Dan Mall of SuperFriendly. So a pretty illustrious bunch.
Below is a manuscript of my contribution, slightly doctored for readability.
So, earlier today I asked myself: “OK, Beah, what are you going to talk about?”
My first instinct was to talk about recognizing great ideas. Even ideas that sound stupid. About not being afraid to say, ‘yes’ to crazy shit.
Ideas like this:
This email arrived in my inbox May of last year. It’s from Chrisse, Ticketleap’s amazing Customer Success Director. Please note Chrisse’s key, conclusive statement: ‘this might be the stupidest idea in the world.” When I read the email, the critic in me stirred. In part because it had the word “selfie” in it; and in part because I didn’t want to risk being the moron that got excited about something the rest of the management team thought was stupid (I was relatively new at Ticketleap and still proving my mettle; last thing I needed was to look like a bad gatekeeper for the product).
But — honestly — I kinda liked the idea. A lot. So eventually I got over myself and responded, proclaiming my enthusiasm.
So that was going to be my thesis: embrace crazy ideas. But then I thought about it for 5 seconds and realized that would be a horrible thesis. Selfie Ticket, wasn’t a stupid idea or a great idea. It was — like all ideas — an opportunity. An opportunity to make something great; an opportunity to make something terrible; or an opportunity to do something decent but ultimately a waste of time. It could go in any of these directions and a million others. My job was to figure out if we if there was a path to greatness and what that path looked like. In other words: execution
This is not a new idea, but it can never be said enough. An idea is only as good as its execution.
So that’s what I’m actually going to talk about: not the idea but the execution of Selfie Ticket. First, for those who don’t know, let me tell you how Selfie Ticket works.
You buy a ticket and instead of getting QR code or barcode, you sign into our app, take a Selfie, and we embed your photo into a digital ticket that you can present from your phone.
So that’s your ticket. Pretty simple. Your ticket lives on your phone and has a photo of you on it (so you can’t pass it over the fence to your friend). There are a number of reasons it’s better than a QR code but I won’t get into those now. The important thing to note is simply that… it’s pretty simple. It’s a ticket. You know what a ticket is. You know what a selfie is (unfortunately). Now you know what a Selfie Ticket is.
But here’s the thing: that apparent simplicity — that’s not a good idea at work. That’s good design at work. Good design makes things appear simple.
GOOD DESIGN MAKES SOMETHING APPEAR SIMPLE
There were infinitely many ways we could have designed Selfie Ticket. Some of them would have felt very clunky or confusing. During our beta testing, I asked maybe a hundred people: “how did Selfie Ticket work for you?” and the most common answer I heard was something like, “Actually, it was really easy.”
So anyway, how did we get to a design that makes it feel simple? And when I say “design,” I mean it really broadly — not just the look and feel but the UX, the information hierarchy and, importantly, the language.
Here’s how: we found ways to put it in front of people, collect reactions, and iterate.
FEEDBACK IS A RELIGION
Maybe this sounds obvious. “Is she really saying, ‘create a prototype, get feedback, complete design’”? Duh, right? I’m not just saying that. Well, sort of. You probably should do that. BUT, I will also say: feedback is not a step. Let me say it again, because that’s something people do for emphasis, right? Feedback is not a step. Feedback is more like a religion. You believe in it and it shapes everything you do. You test out everything on the world, listening for reactions/feedback.
That CAN mean building a prototype or beta product and giving it a formal test in a real life situation. We did this with Selfie Ticket. We did it by throwing our own event and using Selfie Ticket.
But it can also mean something way lighter weight than that. It can mean going home, telling your husband about the idea, trying out different language and approaches, and listening for clues in his reaction (if he’s a generally super supportive enthusiastic person, you have to listen reaaaaaal careful). It means showing a mock to the guy sitting next to you on the train. It means sharing some slides at the company meeting to get everyone talking and critiquing. It’s not a step.
What did feedback do for us? It basically changed everything
And therein lies a critical rule of feedback-as-a-religion: If you ask for feedback, be ready to learn from it. Be ready to make real changes.
BE OPEN TO CHANGE
Recall the subject line of Chrisse’s email? “Idea: Early Check-in.” Well before we launched we completely erased any explicit reference to both ‘early’ AND to ‘check-in.’ In testing the designs and early version of the app, we learned that people brought different connotations to the term ‘check-in.’ Some people thought it was like a Foursquare check-in; some people thought about early flight check-in. Neither of the concepts created the right mental model. So we tossed the reference. What are you doing in the app? You’re just creating your Selfie Ticket. Almost like printing your QR code ticket. It’s just the prep work you do to get your ticket — though more fun than printing.
Another thing we learned? Once we got a beta version of our app in the store, we found our users were downloading the wrong app. We already had an app for event creators — used for selling and scanning tickets. Now we also had an event-goer app. Some of our event creators downloaded the event goer app and vice versa. Confusion and dissatisfaction ensued. This raised the question: why do we have 2 apps? While historically the ticketing industry has thought of it’s “sellers” (people who create events) and “buyers” (people who go to events) as separate populations, we didn’t! We were building a product for people like you — people who have something worth sharing with the world and want to use live experiences to do that. You don’t have to be a professional event creator. Most of you aren’t professional bloggers but you write stuff online when you have something to say. Everyone is a potential event creator to Ticketleap. So, in our second iteration, we combined the apps into one. Could we have anticipated this? Should we have anticipated this? Probably. Probably I, as the Product Manager, should have laid that out in the initial plans. But I didn’t. It took a little feedback from the world.
IT DOESN’T STOP AT LAUNCH
We’re still iterating. We’re still getting feedback/reactions from the world. Here’s a pertinent example: this event — this event in which I talk about Selfie Ticket — did not use Selfie Ticket. And I see that as my failure; my failure to design a check-in option presentation that convinced Abby to enable Selfie Ticket. But that’s OK because feedback is not a step. I didn’t miss my chance. We’ll keep iterating and hopefully next year when I’m talking at PhilaMade’s Show & Tell about Ticketleap’s next great event innovation, people will show up at the door with their Selfie Tickets, excited to hear what’s next.
- Beah Burger-Lenehan, VP of Product