How We Include Design & Agile Thinking in our Production Process
In early 2014, we set off to work on the Bookwitty WordPress Plugin, which would add a Bookwitty-powered e-commerce feature to any wordPress site in minutes. This article details our creation process and how following the teachings of Design Thinking helped us make our product better.
At the time of the conception of the Bookwitty E-commerce Plugin, all of the key indicators were pointing us in this direction: Media companies were struggling with their revenue models. WordPress powered some 20% of the internet back then (its market share has now grown to 29% as of November 2017), and Booksellers didn’t have the means to build their own websites, let alone manage the logistics of online order fulfilment.
Additionally, Bookwitty wanted to expand its sales channels and needed the help of media companies, booksellers, bloggers to bring the right book to the right audience. This plugin would allow our future partners to create book reading lists, or feature a single book inside any of their posts. As a result, their readers would be able to seamlessly buy the books they feature without ever leaving their website.
With all of these points in mind we kicked off production on the Bookwitty WordPress Plugin.
Bookwitty WordPress Plugin V.1
We figured that the key to our success would be to ensure that regardless of how tech savvy our partners were, using the plugin should be painless. We designed our first version to fit perfectly into WordPress. We used the same UX elements as the WordPress backend which allowed us to integrate it perfectly with WordPress’ functional flow.
- WordPress "Add Media" Window:
- Plugin "Add Book" Window:
For anyone who understood how to use WordPress, even on a basic level, the experience was seamless, but we soon realized there was more to it than that.
The downside of working in an industry for several years is that you stop questioning yourself. The way our brain works is full of biases, and the more we think we know about something, the less natural it becomes to question our own judgement and experiences.
We needed to stop thinking like techies, and open our minds up to the needs of our partners.
For more on the science of human misjudgment I highly recommend Charlie Munger‘s 1995 talk The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.
"The downside of working in an industry for several years is that you stop questioning yourself."
In Comes Design Thinking
As an architect, I am always in search of parallels between my training as a designer and my work in the tech industry. I naturally fell upon Design Thinking, which helped me change the way I looked at problems.
Perhaps the most valuable impact of applying this methodology was that it brought on a massive change in how we as a company look at projects. We learned to empathize with our users, by starting off with questions not answers. We learned that the most important question to ask ourselves every day was: “Which problem am I solving for my partners and users today?”
As a result, we came to realize that every new conversation could lead to a better version of our project, and so we accepted that the work would never be finished.
How did this approach help us improve our product?
The thing is, continuous iterations and improvements mean that you regularly incorporate tiny changes. It’s not about having massive breakthroughs, it’s about keeping a humble mindset, and listening to the needs of your users, no matter how small they might seem to you at the time.
Version 1.0 | Update: Adding varying degrees of e-commerce integrations
- The partner: Albertine is a bookstore run by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York. It is one of the city’s only bookstores to offer a comprehensive selection of French books and their corresponding English translations.
- The problem: Because of their cultural mission to promote French culture within the US, Albertine wanted to create a website whose experience is focused on their booksellers’ recommendations, and the cultural events taking place at their bookstore. However, having the book price appear on their recommendation page felt a little too commercial at the time, and took away from the overall intended experience.
- The solution: We added a feature to the plugin that allows users, like Albertine, to customize how the price of the books appear on their website. Secondly we gave them the possibility to decide whether they want to sell the books directly on their website, or instead, use the plugin only for content creation, redirecting visitors to Bookwitty to complete their purchases.
- The partner: My Travel Book List is an online platform that connects travel agencies to potential customers, by curating personalized travel guide selections that match their customer’s needs in matters of: destination, budget, and interests.
- The problem: We use the global scheme known as Thema to categorize the different genres in our catalogue. Thema is a multilingual book trade subject classification. Until we worked with My Travel Book List we only allowed our partners to feature or filter books using the first layer of the category tree in Thema. This includes umbrella categories such as Arts, Law, Medicine & Lifestyle. Given that My Travel Booklist is specialized in travel, which is not in Thema’s first layer, they needed to have a deeper access to the category tree to provide a good experience
Version 1.7 | Update: Changing the way we display categories
- The solution: We integrated a new interface in our plugin settings that allows any user to filter down into deeper layers of the Thema tree. This made it possible for any specialized blogger or media website to highlight any of the categories that are relevant to their audience, no matter how niche they are.
- The partner: L’Oiseau Indigo is a book promoter that advertises books from over 30 African, Arab, and Indian Ocean publishers to the European and North American markets.
- The problem: The L’Oiseau Indigo team is mostly francophone, and their WordPress website’s administration interface is entirely in french. Given that the plugin was built entirely in English, it was difficult for them to use. The same problem appeared on the front-end, as the book categories and formats were also showing in English, on a website that caters to French speakers.
- The solution: As a first step, we added translation files in our plugin allowing it to integrate well with any french WordPress website. Secondly, we integrated it closely with one of the most used WordPress plugins for multilingual websites WPML. Lastly, we gave users the ability to edit the name of any category available in the Thema tree and customize it per language.
- The partner: French Morning is a online French magazine and e-commerce platform that targets Francophiles living in the United States.
- The problem: French Morning were already selling products on their website through WooCommerce when we kicked off our collaboration. This meant that they already had another e-commerce plugin integrated on their website. Adding a second checkout cart would confuse their users, and create a clunky user experience.
- The solution: We created a version of our plugin that integrates into WordPress sites that already have a WooCommerce plugin installed. The books are automatically added as WooCommerce products, and the user can seamlessly check out books, as well as other products. Behind the scenes, Bookwitty takes care of the book order, while also providing customer service to the buyers.
Version 2.0 | Update: Making multilingual site management part of our minimum requirements for every new feature
Version 2.3 | Update: Including a WooCommerce integration
What we ultimately learned
At the end of every class I give on design thinking, I take a moment to plead with the managers in the room to promote company cultures that leave room for failure, iteration, and empathy.
In fact, the biggest lesson we as a company have learned from applying Design Thinking was to remain open and agile. Our best ideas have come from listening to our users, and solving their problems, and most importantly by reminding ourselves to ask questions before giving answers. We treat every decision as if it was the first time we were making it, and that is at the heart of our ability to innovate.
In case you want to read up on the e-commerce plugin we have developed for WordPress, make sure to check out our article on why the Bookwitty ecommerce plugin is perfect for blog & website monetization.