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With Nate Webb

Creating a desirable climate tech product with UX design

Software is key to the energy transition, and great UX design will accelerate its adoption. Whether it’s aimed at homeowners or business owners, it's critical that your product is accessible and enjoyable to use. So, what do early stage founders need to know about UX, and how can you make sure your climate tech product doesn’t overlook this pivotal element?

Nate Webb is Director of Growth and Partnerships at Passage, a clean tech product design studio. We sat down with him to discuss why UX is important in climate tech, why you need to start talking to customers early, and tips for building a prototype on the cheap.

Why UX matters

There’s three dimensions to building a successful product. First, whether it’s viable: is there a big enough market for it? Then, whether it’s feasible: is it actually possible to build it? Third, there’s the desirability angle: do people actually want to use it? 

This last criteria is often overlooked, causing products to fail, and it’s where good UX can make all the difference. For a product to be desirable, it needs to solve a problem for the customer, but it also needs to provide an enjoyable experience that they’ll want to return to. If it’s clunky or hard to navigate, it doesn’t matter how well it works - they simply won’t use it. On the other hand, good UX can help your product stand out from the crowd and massively accelerate its uptake.

UX isn’t just visual design, it’s also about how a software product actually functions, and whether it considers your users’ unique needs. They might be people in the back office, who deserve a smooth experience that cuts down on their time using Excel or tools like Salesforce. Or it might mean building a digital tool that’s easy to use for people who’ve never worked with one before. Whatever the customer is using it for, UX should ensure that the software is a help, not a hindrance. 

Founders should take the time to sit down and map out their product’s workflow, for example by writing down every step of the process on sticky notes and laying them out on a whiteboard. By slowing down for a day, and looking at every step of your workflow process, you can sometimes catch opportunities to improve your user experience, without investing in any outside parties.

What founders need to know about UX

Good UX starts from good product design
Engaging your target audience early is key to building the foundation for good UX. So, before you do anything else, ask who’s going to use the software, and what experience you want them to have. Run workshops with your customers - a platform called Mural is great for this - to break down walls and put you on the right track. 

Expect a very iterative process
Working on a product’s UX is a non-linear effort wherein you’ll develop the product, put it in customers’ hands, listen to feedback, and iterate based on what they tell you. While the core framework will stay the same, there’ll always be more things to add or change. This is called iterative design.

This process is repeated over and over with every feature starting from the MVP, allowing a startup to not waste time building a full product out the gate. Understanding concepts like rapid prototyping is very helpful in iterative design; if you’d like to learn more, check out this resource.

Building a prototype without breaking the bank

1. Outsourcing the work
Building a prototype is the first step towards gauging whether your product is actually desirable. In an ideal world, you’d have someone in-house who can do this, but alternately you can look to hire an independent firm, or a freelancer, which you can find on Upwork. The outside perspective of a branding firm or a designer is invaluable at this stage for creating something that’s intuitive and visually cohesive. Or, consider hiring a student, who’ll be able to produce something workable at a cheap rate.

2. Focus on the bigger picture 
As a founder, you’re so focused on building the core product that it can be difficult to zoom out and see it as a user would. If you’re going to DIY the design, you can look at marquee examples for inspiration, but focus on making sure the look and feel is in step with the experience your customers have already had with your brand, such as through your website and other marketing material. If you want to learn more about design thinking as a founder, check out this resource

3. Use no-code platforms
Platforms such as FlutterFlow allow you to design a concept without spending money on building the backend code. If you can’t hire designers or engineers, you can use this tool - and integrate it with the design platform Figma - to create a clickable prototype with visuals, providing a faux app experience to show potential customers. Building a clickable prototype is another step in the iterative design process and there are many ways to do so cheaply

4. Look to your network for feedback 
User feedback is essential for improving your product. One option is to hire the platform UserTesting, which will put together a focus group of real people to try out your product. You can specify whether you want the trial to be made up of people from inside or outside your industry, among other criteria. But, if you’re on a tight budget, you can ask your friends and family to give input, or post on Linkedin asking whether anyone in your network would be willing to spend some time reviewing your product. 

Other tips for implementing UX design 

1. Build a ‘hero flow’ 
Designing for your users starts with knowing who they are. A hero flow is where you’ll map out - whether it’s on the back of a napkin or on a more complex platform - every touch point your product will have, and start to create a framework for what that interaction will look like. 

2. Don’t forget your pitch deck
Adding interactive elements to your product pitch deck will make it more engaging - consider incorporating some animation or motion design. Think of the pitch deck like a trailer to your movie, you want to captivate your audience and entice them to watch the whole thing.

3. Create a design system
A design system is akin to a recipe for how your entire product is going to look, and will probably take a designer or firm to create. It comprises a range of usable components - like pattern libraries, colors, and fonts - that an engineer can come in and build a website, app, or any other core product from, helping ensure the visual experience is consistent.  Developing this early will set the tone for your product’s user experience and help guide all of the teams involved in your iterative design process.  

Nate Webb has been working in digital for the past 15 years, starting in corporate recruiting, Nate led a team managing the onboarding and placement of sr. engineering talent at Intel corporation. From there Nate went to work at 52 limited serving the greater west coast with premier creative talent for tier 1 ad agencies and brands like Nike and Salesforce. Nate then transitioned into the world of Product Design spending the last 9 years working at interactive firms with a focus on end to end design and development projects. Working with innovation teams at the enterprise level, Nate joined Passage with a focus of expanding their cleantech vertical and bringing consumer grade design and development services to early stage, mid cap and large scale renewable energy companies. Nate has a passion for seeing the impact of good design on an organization's ability to scale and adapt to the changing digital environment. As an aside, Nates father is a climate change scholar in Michigan and having grown up in both Oregon and Michigan and having had the privilege to live abroad several times (in Mexico, Spain and India) Nate has a personal passion for impacting climate change. 


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