Paul on stage and speaking at Product Tank Edinburgh

Building products with people is very different from building products for people

By: Paul Ralph | Posted on: | Tags:

I have a passion for technology and for pushing boundaries ... After all it’s that technology that gives me independence, helps me move, helps me to work, enjoy leisure, and live a rich and fulfilling life.

Listen to the audio version of Building Products with People

I can recall when it wasn’t quite like that. My thoughts are drawn to the early 1980’s when attending a conference in Birmingham on the theme of human interaction and technology … it was so different … People were just getting in to the very first Macs, the internet hadn’t been born, floppy disks were all the rage and colour screens were a dream possession!

Oh, how we have moved on in less than a life time … my watch can show me who is at my front door, I can use my voice to turn my lights on, I can send an email or a text or surf the internet without touching a keyboard or mouse … my home turns devices on or off and “if this then that” is my favourite play thing …

I think this is what they call this Tech for Good !

Euan's Guide

I want to talk about Euan's Guide and the journey to becoming the go to website for disabled access information

I guess that some of you will have heard of Euan’s Guide others may be in the “Euan who?” camp … The name comes from Euan MacDonald and his sister Kiki who set up the website. Euan become a wheelchair user and later a powerchair user after having been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. With this life changing experience came challenges and issues that have driven enterprise and endeavour. I guess you could say that Euan’s Guide is a product of being faced with a challenge or two.

At this point I want to offer you a flavour of what we do but perhaps not the recipe.

My elevator pitch might be something along the lines of:

“We have often been described as a kind of Trip Advisor for disabled people, their friends and families.”

Once in a while you meet a product that has been grown and developed to directly create a solution to a problem that an audience has identified. It’s one of those … “We can do that, we can change that” moments… Euan and Kiki fall into that group as they knew there had to be an answer to the problem they, and so many others, were experiencing.

So what is the problem?

Well, sometimes people need some help in deciding whether or not they can do things. Let’s go with a simple idea … After this event, some folk might be thinking about continuing the chat and going for a drink in one of the many bars around here. However, if you happen to be a disabled person there’s another layer after considering the idea of going to the pub …

By way of example:

When I’ve decided to join you and pop down the pub I start thinking about:

Is this going to be within wheeling distance?
 I wonder if there are dropped kerbs all the way?
 Is this going to be easy to get in the door or open the door?
 Is there going to be enough space for me to find a table?
 Is there going to be an accessible loo and is it easy to get to without having to embark on crowd management strategies?
 I wonder what the staff are like … are they going to smile and offer a warm welcome or see me as a ‘fire hazard’ ?

So you see … there lies the problem …

How do disabled people, their friends and families, know how accessible places and spaces are going to be for them?

The solution

Euan and Kiki had their collection of favourite places that worked. Other families had the same … What if, what if there was a way of collating these collections, these stories, these experiences so that disabled people had greater choice?

From this seemingly simple idea Euan’s Guide was born, a web site developed, reviews invited and the magical journey begun … We had a product, “Euan’s Guide”, we had an audience, we started getting reviews and here we are some time later … Euan’s Guide has grown to become the go to place for disabled access information …

Members of the public contribute reviews about all sorts of places, they share what is important to them, they write about the fun stuff and they write about the need to know places. It’s as important to know about visiting CodeBase as it is visiting Edinburgh Castle.

Venues, places and spaces can list on Euan’s Guide and tell folk about the facilities they have. Simply knowing that a place or space has an accessible toilet is enough to help someone decide to visit.

It’s not always as you expect

On our journey to change the world one review at a time we learnt so much… Our first encounter with the unexpected was with our use of Google maps… But what happens when your users use voice command and control or use eye gaze technology? Suddenly Mr Google’s native controls are not so easy to use - too small, too difficult to select, too hard to see … Slightly ironic that something designed to show you the way was blocking the way …

For us it was a case of building some new controls … But the important point here is not about building something new but the engagement with your audience.

Lesson one:

Building products with people is very different from building products for people

Too much white noise makes life difficult

We soon found out that different people search in different ways, learnt behaviours influenced searching, expectations influenced searching. We learnt that people strongly identify with other people with similar access requirements. One review from a powerchair user would often be enough to persuade another powerchair user to make a visit.

We needed a way to develop the feeling of community, identify, empathy and practical understanding. Out of this came the design of our search filters … if one powerchair user would identify with another then the filter should be a powerchair.

From there we worked with our audience and developed the filters we see today… Practical things that people understand and identify with …

Lesson two:

Be brave enough to break out of traditional boxes, models and standards

Making people fit boxes doesn’t work

How do people write reviews on Euan’s Guide?

That’s not the bit about telling us what access was like, what the transport links were like, what the loos were like or what the people were like … It’s the actual mechanism for conveying what you want to say …

Very early on in our journey we learnt that sometimes, just sometimes, people may not want to write … they may want to gather their thoughts as audio recording or they may want to produce their feedback for a place or a space as a short video clip.

Lesson three:

Just because you build your product that way doesn’t mean your audience will use it that way

Let your users ‘sell’ the product

Don’t under estimate the value of user engagement … we talk to our users, we answer every email, we strive to go the extra mile in our relationship with our stakeholders.

We have a host of people who write reviews to share their experiences of disabled access, well over 70% of the reviews written are four star or above and people frequently visit places based on the strength of one review … We have a network of fifty or so Euan’s Guide Ambassadors who champion what we do and lend a hand when they can.

We are changing the world one review at a time …

And so …

Lesson four:

You audience, your customers, your followers are your greatest Ambassadors. Let them be part of your journey and your product will move from being great to being amazing!

That’s Euan's Guide ...

With that thought … the idea that you build your product with your audience - I shall close and thank you for reading our Euan's’ Guide story …

Source: Paul speaking at Product Tank, Edinburgh, on 24th July 2019 at CodeBase

Blog | Paul J Ralph, FRSA