Ecosystems and the Hierarchy of User Needs: How Ecosystems Are Redefining User Experience


Ecosystems and the Hierarchy of User Needs: How Ecosystems Are Redefining User Experience

Continuous Discovery

Ecosystem and platform thinking, what does it mean to you, a UX designer, and your Scrum Team? Building an ecosystem or disrupting the existing market is never an easy task, but it starts with a very simple problem statement — get to the bottom of the user’s needs. By researching the Hierarchy of Needs in depth, many disruptive companies like Amazon are strategically embedding its findings into their product roadmap and ecosystem strategy. Designing an experience based on the Needs analysis with the vision of an ecosystem at its heart is how, as a designer, you can genuinely win the user experience. Do you and your Scrum team have a vision of an ecosystem in the current product roadmap?

Emi Kwon

Emi Kwon, Director, Experience Design Group,Metlife

Hi, my name is Emi, I'm director of UX design at MetLife Japan, I'm so excited that I can share all my research or findings on the ecosystems and the hierarchy of user needs. And I'm sure that you have heard of this concept, which is ecosystems and platforms. But you know, how does it relate to UX design and what does the hierarchy of user needs mean in this context. So let's take a look at the relationship between ecosystems, a hierarchy of user needs, and how the concept of understanding you know, the user needs and ecosystems can contribute to our UX design.

So let's move on to the you know, what I'm going to walk you through today. So my presentation comes in the four parts. First is, I want to walk you through key concepts, which is UX hierarchy of needs, and ecosystem and platform model. And the next will be use cases about on Amazon ecosystem, and Nike Run Club. And the next one, which is my own case studies, which is MetLife, health 360 App and upWise. And last, but not least, will be some lessons learned and future implementations for you guys.

Okay, let's move on to the key concepts part. So I've been doing research on ecosystem and platform thinking. And what I have learned is that there's not much research going on this domain, in the UX industry, it's more like a business concept, which is more relevant to transformation officers and business architects, and engineers, but I think it's very, very important that for UX designers, like you and I, to understand what we are building right now. Platforms, and how broad platforms can grow into ecosystem, and how we can contribute to a user centric user experience.

So let's take a look at what it means for us UX designers, first of all, UX hierarchy of needs. So this concept, which is Hierarchy of Needs is actually a psychological concept, which is created by Maslow. So Maslow's hierarchy of needs comes in all different layers in the shape of a pyramid. So, at the bottom of this pyramid is what it calls physiological needs, such as very, very basic needs, like functionality in terms of a UX design, functionality, reliability, and usability. So, when you build a product that you're told touchpoint, users looking to see their product to be functional, reliable and usable. But that's not everything. Beyond that horizon of the bottom part, which is usability.

Our users do say, they look for something more than that, which is more convenience, and an experience that is pleasurable and meaningful, that is personally significant to them. But unfortunately we see many products overflowing the market, and unfortunately, not many products serve to actual users needs, because the products, they are developed in a way, most of the developers, Scrum teams, we just work with some kind of hypothesis, like, our own hypothesised solution space, we believe something physical, like a products that come in different features, like features that will contribute to user experience. But that's not true. Because our users they're looking for an experience, they might not be looking for a product per se, they might be looking for a therapy or recipe, they can help address, their pain points and challenges.

So how can we do that then? Address the real, you know, the motivation, underlying motivation and the needs of the users? And how can we help address the challenges that users are experiencing? It's only through relentless, iterative user research, we can discover what are the challenges for them, pain points for them, we can also discover what are the unknowns challenges and pain points that we are not able to see at the moment. We can only do this by continuing our iterative user research. So the metaphor that I really like is, it's like a tip of iceberg. So, what we see is what we see but we are not able to see, what we are not able to see, right? So beneath the surface of the ocean for example, you see the iceberg is floating around in the ocean. We can only see what's out there that visible to us, which is our hypothesized solution space, functionality, reliability, usability. It’s easier to build into product, it’s easier to achieve. But how can we get to the bottom part of this iceberg the hierarchy of user needs, which is not really visible, not tangible to us, which is more like underlying motivation and needs of users. It's harder to see.
So let's get back to the concept of ecosystem and platform model. So when it comes to ecosystem, so it's built with a lot of mirrors of platforms. So chances are that you're working on a single platform, but then move on to the second platform, and the third the platform, and the chances are, you might need to actually connect the dots, there are channels and user journeys and flows of that come with those platforms. And you need to think about how you can actually connect the channels, the experiences together, to build it into a seamless, holistic user experience. That's the way that you can build an ecosystem. So whenever you work on the single digital platform, you have to also think about what will be the vision of an ecosystem that will ultimately that your platforms will ultimately grow into. So that's the ecosystem and the platform model. And there are so many platforms these days, and it's harder to tell it keeps just growing in number and scale. There are platforms like communication platforms, search platforms, Google, Bing, and Yahoo, sharing economy platforms, like Uber, Airbnb is a car payment platforms, retail platforms, booking aggregators, content review platforms, matching platforms, social media platforms.

Well, we can't even count the number of how many platforms are there these days. But definitely one thing they have in common is that they are there to grow into, to build into some kind of an ecosystem of their own. So this is platform business model. And let's take a look at what it means for us UX designers. I prepared some use cases for you and the Amazon ecosystem, I think it's a brilliant example, for us to understand what ecosystem means. So Amazon, it's a typical retail platform, and which is more than a platform this days, actually. So when they were founded back in 1994 what they had in mind probably was just a book retailing back sale, 1994 you know, and they hypothesised the solution space was a selling books, delivering books to their customers, that was their hypothesis solution space. But over time, they continue their user research, customer research and to discover. Well, it may not be exactly what our customers are looking for, when they buy a book, you know, they might be looking for something else.

The real needs, the real motivations, what do they have in their, deep in their mind, is this something, they are not able to see at that point, but through their innovative user customer research, they're able to find this. Their customers, they might want to discover anything, everything. They might want to buy online. So now they come across this challenge, how can we build this platforms, that's more than just the book retailing online, but can we do something else, and this is a solution they come up with these days over time. So what they're doing is, I mean, they're trying to build a plant like ecosystem, but building platforms is not enough. And they needed to just sometimes buy up and merge with the other platforms, and partner with those if they're not able to buy them. So what they let you say, is actually an Amazon ecosystem these days, that's made up of a lot of platforms that we can't even count.

So this is how they get into the solution space. At the bottom of this user hierarchy of needs, there's more than just book retailing, they're looking for something, they want to buy everything, anything online. So this is the Amazon ecosystem, as you can imagine. So they just keep growing and with a bunch of platforms there. And I think the big challenge for Amazon these days is how to actually connect the dots and build it into a seamless integrated ecosystem for their customers. So one example of how like retailing giants like Amazon is doing these days in terms of ecosystem and platform model.
And another example we can take a look at is Nike, which might be a little more relevant to us UX designers. So Nike used to be just I mean, it is a manufacturer so basically what they sell is a sports goods, clothes and running shoes, but they don't want to dwell on that. They’re hypothesising the solution space.

So over time through their iterative customer user research you also discovered, their customers when they visit one of their websites like shopping websites, so what they might be looking for, it's not just a pair of running shoes, it might be something else that can be their customers want to be inspired, they want to actually learn how they can enjoy their sports life and get feed and healthy. And they also will want to feel connected to and share a passion for sport with other people. So what they come came up with these days is, Nike Run Club.

So one bit more digital touch point there they keep building on is this Run Club app. And as you can see that basically, you know, you can also go to their shopping website and browse through the different nice running shoes, but that's not the core of the experience, the real experiment here is actually, you can meet other athletes, and make friends you can run together, really enjoy the experience itself, rather than just, pushing you to buy this and that. This is the kind of ecosystem that Nike has in mind. And, based on this run club app, they tried to build more platforms there. And they try to create more partnerships with other, supplementaries and ecosystem collaborators. So like, there's a playlist you can enjoy, and the product trials, and you can meet other users and athletes and coaches, because what these covered over, like, their customer research is their users, they have customers, they actually, they want to be inspired, and they needed to bring out an experience that can be transformative before their customers. So this is how they tried to resolve this. And by understanding the deep down motivation was the underlying motivation for their customers.

So it's gonna be a big challenge, and also a big opportunity for a manufacturer like Nike. So let's get back to my own cases, studies. I work at MetLife, Japan, I also work, across the region, and Asia Pacific, and the US. And, what we came up with our two digital solutions based on our customer user research, which is MetLife health a 360 app, and applies that, let's take a look at what those saw, digital touch points me and then how it can try to transform our user experience for our customers. So getting back to the hierarchy of needs, you know, insurance companies, traditionally, we are just the sellers. So the products that we sell, is insurance policies, those are the products and the traditionally, our experience, customer experience, it has been so much more focused on selling products, insurance policies, so it's all about how to upsell and cross sell how we can sell better, more products. But over time, we realized that this might not be the kind of thing, our customers might be looking for. We need to go beyond just providing products and products, but what else our customers are looking for when they reach out to us and try to build a relationship with an insurance company like MetLife.

So, we came up with this the design thinking approach, and lounge, the discovery research project back in 2018, and try to roll out across the world, but mostly back in Asia Pacific region. So, the discovery research, we started by collecting voice of a customer data so we can understand, what are the basic needs and questions, some complaints, even some points of dissatisfaction drop off of our customers, so data collection and synthesis. And then based on the data synthesis, we came up with the user interview customer interview questionnaire. And then you've conducted a user research and the researcher synthesis and design sprints. So what we came up with is this, we came up with a some key persona that can best represent our target customers, and also what are the key themes and keywords, the kinds of challenges and pain points our customers are experiencing? What are their main concerns?

So it happens to be, you know, it's not about buying products, actually insurance policies, but actually, when they reach out to us, they're looking to achieve some something more like life or health and wellness. So those are the keywords and key themes that we are found through our user research, customer research in a financial wellness emotional stability, and they want to stay fit and healthy. So those are the key words and things. So those are the underlying motivations for our customers we discovered. So based on our understanding about the hierarchy of needs, and now we're looking at the top part, how can we make this experience more meaningful, personally significant to our customers? How can we make this more pleasurable, enjoyable for them, so we want to be a partner and friend through their customer journey.

So traditionally, we have had this transactional app, so our customers can login and get online, and they can manage their insurance policies online, which is nice enabler for their, like digital policy kind of management, which is a little more transactional kind of thing. But what what we are looking at now, through our user research, customer research is actually the key words, the key concerns that the underlying motivations of our customers, it needs to be something that can make their lives better off, they can make their experience meaningful, personally significant, what are those them? So here are the two digital solutions that we came up with the first one financial, emotional needs, so we can address this with the financial wellness app. So this app, which we released in North America, in 2021. So some of the key features that white provides is that our customers can learn about financial topics and actions.

So they can improve the financial wellness, and they can link accounts to understand their financial activity. And including spending and savings patterns, and they can also review recurring subscriptions, and cancel subscriptions they don't need anymore. So financial wellness app, this is one of our solutions to our customers, our underlying motivation, which is wellness and health, wellness. So health, then how can we address this health one of the underlying motivations and needs of our customers. So another solution that we came up with is healthier 360 that we launched in 2018, or 2020, in Korea, and trying to roll up across the Asia Pacific region, in Bangladesh and Australia, and the responses is so positive with our customers. And we can keep saying, it's a very positive growth and, you know, acceptance with our customers.

So this health 360 app, it comes with many interesting features. But basically, it's an enabler, it's an end to end health solution that helps our customers live a better and healthier life. So what it can do is to provide prevention, early detection toolkits, it provides access to treatment, ongoing care and financial support. So while we're customers can feel, oh, they can live a life they can really enjoy in a relationship with us and try to achieve that life of health and wellness together with us. So something that is more than just a selling product, it's a transformative experience for them. So we keep on building features into it. But what's more important is that we establish such and such digital touch points, the moment of truth with our customers through those digital touch points. So again, at the bottom of this, the hierarchy of needs is that our customers, they want to feel well than healthy, they want to feel supported in managing their health and wellness.

So it's that simple, at the bottom of the hierarchy of needs, they might just want to be feel secure and healthy. So, this is what we can learn through iterative customer research, and think about how you can build what kind of features and how you want to roll out, I think that's more like next step, but first of all, we need to understand what they're actually looking for when they reach out to us. So this is an image of the kind of ecosystem we have in mind. So revolving around this to kids stems which is wellness and health, how can we bring that kind of experience to our customers, we keep building on our platforms such as health a 360, and applies financial wellness app. And there are still traditional some digital touch points, such as policy manager and website. And we kept building on the platform for and platform five. But what's important also is that we need to learn how to better our trade partnership with our surplus mentors and suppliers and partners, because building every platform from scratch is actually not that realistic.

So we need to learn how we can find the better partners who can really contribute to this experience, so we can build it into some kind of ecosystem that is whole ballistic simulus, well integrated for our customers. And again, so this is not about selling products, this is not about just developing and to building features into your products, it's about how we can achieve that experience that can transform our users, our customers. So a value proposition that's focused on experience. And how we can do this is by understanding the hierarchy of needs what are those layers functional, reliable, but what are the layers, so for making the experience meaningful, significant for our users. So that should be through innovative research again, and that's what we are doing currently.

So keep building on ecosystem for our customers and users, so we can create that experience for them. But obviously there are challenges for this kind of all building ecosystem and platform. So across the region, because MetLife, we have customers in 60 countries around the world, and who is going to actually direct and orchestrate that experience, to build it into something seamless, integrated one core experience for our customers. So having the kind of the clear governance and how we can achieve the force of modularity. So we don't have to give on every touch point, but it can create its own experience, like independently also, and every market, every customer, I mean, every segment, we know, they have different behaviours. So how can we actually understand the different subtleties and languages of each culture and experience in each region. So that can be also a big challenge, as well. And the technical challenges, and also in terms of user experience, so what we know is what we know, and what we say is what we can say, but what are we what about other motivations, we are not able to understand and see at the moment, so the unknowns, how can we go and explore, and trying to maybe bring it into some kind of experience in the future.

So that can be one of the challenges that we come across these days. And for future implementations, again, are also that we need to also keep exploring and discover our partners to build this ecosystem. And it's very hard to find the nice collaborators and all the ecosystem commenters, who have the technology, expertise and experience in who understands our customers, most of all, so and the cost to connect the dots between those variable platforms, they can be a huge challenge as well. So for future implementations, we will have to keep working on it but this is obviously a project that is in progress. And the digital touch point ecosystem is something that is in the making still. So last but not least, I have some takeaways for you, but I want it to be more like a question for you and your Scrum teams. So you can think about how you can answer those questions for yourself.

So first of all the needs the hierarchy part. So how do you understand what are the real the needs and challenges over your users? And if you don't damn, are you currently doing iterative user research to understand the user nice? And if you do, and what are the kids then that can really represent the clearly the hierarchy of needs in your platform, or ecosystem that's in development? And also the platform and ecosystem part? What kind of platforms to you currently own and design? And plan on building further? And what do you have any like clear vision for an ecosystem for the digital solution that you're currently working on? And what kind of collaborators partners in your ecosystem that your platform can partner with and bring into and the WestEd governance and the center of modularity that you have a mind that should be there to support the ecosystem?

So those can be both the challenges and also, have questions for you. I think this is such a theme that goes across many different regions. So in terms of user experience, we see so many different platforms these days, but they ultimately they needed to grow into some kind of ecosystem. So how can we do that? And how can we collaborate? And more importantly, how can we understand the underlying motivation of our users and customers better? So let's keep on thinking about how, we can do that and how ecosystems, are redefining user experience design. So I hope everyone enjoys this research, and the police also work together with the Scrum teams to create that vision of an ecosystem for your digital solutions.