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Dawson Andrews

an independent digital product firm


Monday 01 January 1900

How to explain Digital Product to your mother.

Cameron Stewart, 
Director of Strategy, Dawson Andrews, 
Sept '18 | 7 min read

Camerons Mum

My mother loves to tell the world and its wife about my escapades. On topics such as travel, weather, my health — she’s a seasoned professional. When it comes to what I actually do, ‘internet stuff’ doesn’t quite cut it anymore. Realising the common thread amongst the team at Dawson Andrews I decided to put this little explanation together to explain what it is we actually do, as a sales tool for our number one fans.

Dawson Andrews is a digital product studio. While a ‘studio’ can be left to the imagination (a loft-style office full of underdressed ‘professionals’ who spend too much money on donuts and overpriced coffee), what on earth is a Digital Product?

A traditional product in its most simple terms is something to be considered of value — a burger, a hat, a car. Their value is found in the function they provide — nutrition, comfort, transport. While a ‘digital’ product might not seem worth paying for, the function it provides often is. Amazon Kindle is a digital product that provides value by storing, delivering and tracking your way through your digital book collection. Facebook is a digital product that keeps you in touch with family and friends. They normally either provide a service (Facebook) or deliver a product (Kindle books) acting as the interface between you, the consumer, and the company or service provider that is providing to your needs. Other examples might include your Uber app, the Alexa that landed last Christmas, your beloved Netflix, Google Maps, Skype, Moonpig, Spotify.

Digital products go beyond just a website that show you information.

Digital products go beyond just a website that show you information. They are built with a specific purpose that drive business goals for a company and provide value for a customer. A good product scratches both backs at the same time. Tesco Direct allows you to shop from the comfort of your sofa, it also knows you are a sucker for mini eggs and places them right in front of you at just the right time (similar to how they do in the store, just 10x more suited to you). If for whatever reason you don’t fall for the mini eggs, next time it will have adjusted to a different sequence and possibly try your second favourite (Terry’s Chocolate Orange, with 30% off just for you) just in case your discipline is rising against it. Uber will tempt you with a slightly more premium ride home after Prosecco with the ladies while also using algorithms to work out the most efficient way of allocating drivers so they earn more money in an evening. These products, so long as we use them responsibly, are making our lives more convenient and businesses more profitable.

A digital product studio builds these things. We are made up of a mix of disciplines. We have people who go and speak to end customers hoping to understand their needs better — we call this qualitative research. We have designers who design the interfaces and buttons you click when you use Pinterest of your online banking. We have engineers who write in computer languages, otherwise known as ‘code’ instructing the piece of software to do what we need it to do. These engineers are also called programmers or developers. We have strategists who monitor how you use these products so they can make them more effective and ultimately more valuable. Strategists are sort-of everyone but it’s a good catch-all title for those who want to sound smarter than they are.

Most of the time we do these for big companies. We’ve worked with banks, retailers, events, sports teams, magazines; we even helped a startup to build a product from scratch which is now helping over a million users share their ideas. Sometimes we build these things for ourselves — this year we started a company off the back of something we built that already has a few paying customers.

A project can last anywhere from a few months to years. We have a few clients who have been working with us since we started, going on four years. The products we build are designed to build businesses so they are always feeding back data that tell us what we should probably build next. We call this ‘feature development’ or ‘product optimisation’ where say we might create a new quick-pay feature for splitting a coffee bill via your banking app. The growing nature of the products often mean we’re friends with our clients for a long time.

Feeling fancy?

Okay, here are a few curve ball buzzwords that will really have your friends choking on their afternoon tea…

API’s

In a sentence; “They do a lot of API work” | “They build API’s” | “They actually started as an API house” |

You might have heard Zucherberg drop the ‘API’ bomb a few times on national television so why shouldn’t you use it? I promise, it’s easy. API stands for Application Programming Interface (but you don’t need to know this). They can be pretty complex and might explain the BMW in the driveway but at their core, they have a very simple function. An API allows applications to talk to one another — to share their data in a readable format, along with the ability to create or modify content. This makes it possible to integrate their services directly into other applications, such as the ability to login to Netflix using Facebook or posting directly to Twitter outside of their official app or website.

Rapid Prototyping

In a sentence; “They use Rapid Prototyping to prove or disprove an idea really fast.” | “Rapid Prototyping is key to Agile Development”.

Okay this one sounds scary but most of the fancy terms we use are actually very simple. Rapid Prototyping is an approach to developing products that was around long before digital. In the olden digital days, egos were a lot less resilient and so creatives would lock themselves in a room for a few months and then produce a ‘ta-daaa’ moment with a polished product. The issue was the risk that posed — what if it didn’t work properly? Instead, we build the basics fast so we can test them and learn from them. We can sometimes have a prototype out in the space of a day — it’ll be ugly but it teaches us a lot about what the next version needs to be and allows us to build effective products faster.

That’s probably enough for today, I hope that this puts you more in the picture.

Having shared this with the team we thought it’d be funny to actually test on our mothers. Here are some of the replies we got… (minus the spelling and grammatical feedback)

Q&A:

So do you build websites?

- Minnie Fulton, Andrew’s Mum.

Yes, we do. But no, we probably shouldn’t build Joanne’s blog for her. We’d cost too much. (There’s also a digital product for that already, tell her to try squarespace.com.)

Our focus is commercial projects that drive value for a business — these have budget to pay us and are invested in making it commercially successful in the long run which makes our cost justifiable.

Is this the same as a web design company?

- Esma Coffey, Aaron’s Mum.

Don’t worry, you are not just getting old, this Digital Product Studio thing is a new(ish) idea. We don’t work in web design studios anymore, the industry has changed. Instead of building one piece, taking a cheque and saying cheerio (old way) we more work as development partners now (new way). The products we build evolve and grow long beyond their initial launch so the set up is more of a collaboration that continually drives business results. With our method having so much transparency we are able to prove our value pretty easily which allows us to charge a premium — that premium we use to launch our own ventures.

Can all this not be summed up with ‘ creative marketing’?

- Helen Stewart, Cameron’s Mum.

No. That’s an industry called ‘Marketing’. We don’t do marketing.

So you build apps?

- Gillian Young, Colin’s Mum.

YES! Nailed it.

But what does my son actually do?

- Esma Coffey, Aaron’s Mum.

If they work at Dawson Andrews they do a mix of things. Coders often attend qualitative research sessions (and sit at the back on their laptop), all of our designers code, everyone is a strategist, everyone interacts with our clients, everyone cleans the kitchen (honestly). Building products is a team sport and while we each have our own specialty, we approach projects as a unit so we’re faster, more effective and honestly, it’s just more fun that way.

Do you have beanbags?

- Brenda Winson, Jen’s Mum.

No.

Do you have an office chef?

- Brenda Winson, Jen’s Mum.

No.

Greenery?

- Brenda Winson, Jen’s Mum.

No.

Well, we have a bonsai tree we bought in IKEA. It’s not green anymore though.

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