User-centred design

Cocoon has always been a company driven by data. I joined the team in February 2015, as Head of Customer Experience. My first task was to ensure that our customers are central in our product design process.

The Cocoon team had more data than usual about who had pre-ordered a Cocoon. From surveying and interviewing people who had pre-ordered, we understood more than just average age, location and gender. We knew why people had pre-ordered, what it was about the product they liked, and how they anticipated Cocoon fitting in with their lives.

Great, you may think – and it is. But anonymised data exists in spreadsheets; it takes time to absorb and comprehend. How do you make this information meaningful and useful, so that the customer really is at the heart of what we do? One technique we use is to create personas.

Personas are the first step in a user-centred design methodology. They can be created on assumption alone (following Lean UX principles), on known facts or a bit of both. Personas help you understand who your customer is. They do this by bringing hard facts to life with storytelling techniques – weaving a bit of fiction into the data, to make it resonate emotionally.

What are personas used for?

Personas help get the customer visible in a business, more so than insight and data held within spreadsheets. They can help provide clarity in terms of strategic direction (who you are making the product for) and, in a practical sense, personas help add an objective view to design discussions. Rather than discussions on features and functionality being about the team’s preference, conversations can be reflected to the personas – ‘would ‘Dave’ use/want this?’ If the answer’s no, then we probably shouldn’t be building it.

Lean UX approach

As a development team, we created 3 personas in 45 minutes. This follows Lean UX techniques, where thinking is based on assumptions, with the understanding that it is a living document which will change as you learn more about your customer. You start by imagining who you think your ideal customer is – based on gut instinct rather than insight.

The benefit of a Lean approach is that things can be thrown away. Spending 15 minutes creating a persona document on a flip chart means that when you check the data or speak to your customers and realise something is wrong, it’s OK to rip up the paper, and start again, but from a more informed place.

Refining with data

Running the assumptions, captured in our Lean persona, and working through the data collected from our Indiegogo backers, helped us to refine the work we’d done. We quickly realised where we were wrong and validated where we were right. Adding this insight to assumptions makes the personas more credible.

Refining with testing

As part of our development sprints, I regularly conduct testing of our designs with real people (you might have seen my tweets asking for volunteers!). This exercise means we are getting constant insight into customer attitudes and behaviours, which shapes and refines our understanding of the people we are designing Cocoon for.

Creating personas enables us to ensure that the right people are at the centre of our product design process and ensures that we create a product that really does meet our customers’ needs.

Lean product design with Google surveys and glossy magazines

Right at the birth of our company we recognised the importance of product design. Cocoon had to be designed not as an electronic accessory but as a complement to the home. We wanted Cocoon to be an object of beauty and asked why so many technology products are nondescript black boxes.

First concepts

Quality can be an issue with freelancer marketplaces like DesignCrowd and Elance but that is reflected in their low cost. They allowed us to cheaply generate a range of low quality but radically different concepts from a variety of designers.


We try to follow the lean start-up methodology and showed our early design concepts to 50+ people in our first customer development interviews. This process allowed us to tune our initial value proposition and get qualitative feedback on each design concept. Most importantly though, it was the start of learning the customer profiles most likely to buy our product and therefore learn who we are designing for.

Quantifying good product design

Customer development interviews executed well are indispensable for learning what you hadn’t yet thought to ask but they will never give statistically significant data. What’s more, design can be subjective and we found some people liked a concept for the same reason others disliked it.

Peter Drucker famously said “What’s measured improves” and we needed a clear way to measure improvement (or deterioration) in our product design as we developed the concepts.

We tried a number of tools but settled on Google Consumer Surveys, a service which poses questions to people who wish access premium content:


Google Consumer Surveys is best for asking thousands of people a single question. In such scenarios accuracy is high, a poll run on the platform correctly predicted the result of the last US presidential election.

To create a baseline, we ran a poll of the concepts that performed best in customer interviews alongside a competing product:

Initial product design concepts

Directed improvement

Feedback in customer interviews gave us hypotheses as to design changes that could improve each concept, each of which we could rapidly test by making the changes and running a new poll on Google – results come back in a couple of days.

We liked that poll data can be broken down by the respondent’s gender, age, location (including urban density) and parental status allowing us to check design preference in the cohorts our customer development had shown were most likely to want our product. Two demographic groups we’d identified as important responded very differently to changes and the challenge became to find a form that would poll well in both groups.

You can pay for data on magazine readership profiles but we found some magazines publish the demographic of their readership. Those that don’t will send it free in response to an advertising inquiry. There are no surprises in this example for Grazia magazine!:

Magazine demographic data can inform product design

We identified publications with a readership very focused on each of our demographic groups and picked up some copies. A little judgement was required to pick out products featured or advertised in each magazine that appear to be successful due to their aesthetic quality but it gave us some direction and ideas as to the design properties that might appeal to each group.

It took several attempts to melt the ideas together into a successful design popular in both groups but progress has been made:

Cocoon product design changes test results

We need your help

We’re not stopping there, in our latest set of concepts we’re exploring the use of textiles for the sound and pressure sensor covers and have refined the shape of the base. We’d love to know what you think: Do you prefer fabric or metal mesh sensor covers? The sloped or rounded base? Which color would you choose?

Which Cocoon product design would you choose?

Please give us your feedback, good or bad in the comments section below. We really value your thoughts on our product design.