How Using Northstar Can Guide the Best Product Development Decisions
BY MARK MONEYPENNY & DEVIN MOORE
If you’re lost, just look up.
At Big Bang, our clients challenge us every day to deliver rich and inspiring product experiences, and a vital piece of these experiences is the client’s brand. The product development process contains countless decision points, and at each of these decision points one option can direct more towards the brand than the others. Making the right choice can be complicated by many factors, like deadlines, outside input, as well as the often microscopic differences between each option. We’ve developed a guide to making these decisions called Northstar. So at every decision point, we just look up.
The North Star has been a celestial navigational guide for centuries, a fixed point in an ever changing sky. For us, that point is the client’s brand, and the sky is all the voices, decisions, and variables that could lead us astray. Northstar is our guide for all decisions to ensure we accurately represent a client’s brand within the product experience.
Developing a product’s Northstar begins with an in-depth analysis of our client’s established brand. We look at everything from corporate documents, users, to voices in meetings. We compile this data and then reduce it down to primary elements, which typically take the form of a few deceptively simple key words. These building blocks can then be used as guides for a product’s user interaction, industrial design, how a physical switch interaction should feel, or any other aspect of the product. It’s these elements that become the core of Northstar. They’re what give it a bright glow, the reason we can see it throughout the product development process.
How do you make a product feel like the brand? Those Northstar elements written out on a piece of paper do not directly translate into a product. With each client engagement we work with two different languages: the client’s brand, and the product’s Experiential Brand Language, which we see as the comprehensive extension of a brand through a product’s experience. The XBL is more complex depending on the type of product. It offers the most opportunities on products that have a combination of digital and physical bits.
This intersection of digital and physical allows us to open the dialogue between the spaces and create richer, more immersive product experiences.
We’ll discuss this idea comprehensively later, but in short, we take the Northstar elements and translate them into the product’s XBL. At every decision point the elements of Northstar shine through all those voices and variables to lead us in the right direction. This saves us time and our clients’ money, and ensures that even the minutest detail eats, sleeps, and drinks the brand.
A product that accurately represents a brand isn’t the only place this can be applied. The XBL rabbit hole can run much deeper than the product. To become a universal tool for our clients, the Northstar is compiled into a formal document and can become a guide for anyone in any level of our client’s organization.
Navigating the labyrinth of product development with a brand is complicated, so we take a guide with us.
Related: How Creating Swim Lanes Guides User Experience Design