How to create products that grow with users
Focus on creating a product patina instead of redesigning the product.
I live in a country with two worlds. Everything new and shiny is in one world – new restaurants, shopping malls, cafes, condominiums, shops. The moment something starts to age, it acquires its new Self. But not like in another world. If you visit the old area of Singapore, you will see stripes of colorful old shops with classic Peranakan architecture. Down the street you will find an old café with the same old wooden table covered in a green and blue patina. The young couple who secretly carved their names under this table 10 years ago will still find it there. I can t say the same about a third wave coffee shop in a new world. She just can t beat the charm of an old cafe. Not because it s new. But because she will never grow old with you. After 6 months they will redo the interior. In a year they will close, and a new store will appear in this place. The new world does not allow something to grow with you. I wonder if we are making the same mistake in the digital world?
We are missing out on the opportunity to let products grow with people because we keep changing them.
How can we create products that remain relevant and patina over time? What will the layers of this patina be?
Layer 1 – Attraction?
This is what a scene from an old Bollywood movie looks like: a train leaves from London railway station, and a girl runs to catch up with him. This is her last chance to join her friends for a trip to Europe. The stranger on the train stretches out his hand, offering to tighten it. The train is speeding up and she has a choice. Grab that hand or miss the train. If she thinks about it, she will definitely miss the train.
She grabs his hand, and in dramatic slow motion, a handsome young man pulls her into the carriage. This attraction was the beginning of an exciting journey for two and changed their lives.
The journey of getting to know a new product is full of misgivings. “I want to start living a healthy lifestyle, but I don t know where to start.” “I want to get richer, but I don t know where to start.” We are uncertain and afraid. We think too much. We are so inclined to procrastinate that we are late for the train.
We need a strength that can overcome the forces that hold us back.
Runkeeper is a running app that draws in the user with the “Start” button, which immediately starts the workout mode. The app does not force you to enter distance, pace, time, etc. first. It is very important to dive into your workout first and then worry about statistics.
It matters who the product is trying to lure. These should be customers with high expectations, people looking for the solution to the problem your product provides. Imagine a guy on a train trying to accidentally drag someone from a station into a carriage. Even if you manage to tie random people to use your product, they won t last long. This is what happens to products that have many early adopters but cannot scale.
Layer 2 – Communication ❤️
You ve pulled the right people into the app. Next, you establish a connection between the product and the customer. Forming this bond takes time and commitment. Previously, Spotify recommended mostly local music. The app soon discovered that it was of no interest to me and stopped picking up location-based recommendations.
Just like in a relationship, you study each other first. It s natural to make mistakes. The threshold for forgiveness is greater. Now is the time to work on establishing the connection.
The music that Spotify recommends to me now suits my preferences perfectly! When I start my day at work, I see a Deep Focus playlist at the top. In the evenings, this is the Evening Chill playlist. The Made For You playlist has the soulful music I need. They know so well what to offer me. At this stage of our relationship, it is also important to know what not should be done.
Knowing the customer is allegedly a priority in the banking sector. However, only a few do it well. When applying for a new card / loan / insurance, when the bank requires 5 years of personal data from the client, it seems unnecessary and unwelcoming. Clients see this as the bank s inability to establish much-needed contact.
Layer 3 – History ⏳
A long-term bond forms a thick layer of history between a product and its customer. This is probably the most important layer of product patina that retains customers.
While almost everyone uses Spotify, my girlfriend remains tied to the Apple Music app. I was curious what makes her keep using this app. She said that these are playlists that she has created over the years. Her story with the product keeps her from moving to an equally good (if not the best) option available on the market for free!
People value the time they spend on a product. When Facebook or Google show you photos from the past, that s your story with the app. This is their way of telling you, “Look how far we ve got together!”
If a photograph from five years ago can send us back in time, imagine what traditional banks are capable of. They are sitting on a huge gold mine of personal information. With decades of user data collection, cutting-edge data analysis technology, and artificial intelligence, the potential is enormous. However, there is somehow a gap between the history that customers have in their bank and the experience with the mobile banking app. A beautiful redesign every year doesn t help. A “fresh” look is essentially a new product that is trying to solve a problem. Unfortunately, technology has taken traditional banks a step back when it comes to customer stories. Didn t our grandparents feel more connected to their banks than we do now?
Digitizing is a way to add history, rather than scraping off an old layer to apply new paint every year.
Layer 4 – Future?
People appreciate a product when it helps them progress in an area of their lives that is important to them. They stick to the product when they see that progress is closing the gap between their current self and their ideal future self.
Dreams is the most favorite money saving app among millions. A beautifully designed app with smart tips for saving money helps people save and invest money. It closes the gap between their current financial condition and their financial goal.
How can a bank develop a future layer? Banks are able to plan for clients progress outside of regular banking. They can help them make financial progress all the way from zero debt to financial security and financial freedom. This is an ambitious goal and there is no shortcut. Before the future layer can be set, all previous layers must be in place.
Once the patina has formed, it will surpass all new and beautiful products.
Products with a patina are durable to the core. They are made up of 4 layers: attraction, connection, history and the future. They can gracefully carry the heavy weight of their users high expectations.