Technology NPS benchmarks

When reporting our most recent set of Net Promoter Score results to my team, I decided to dig around for some benchmarks across the industry. This data’s mostly locked away in expensive reports, but here’s what I found from various public articles and PR pieces pimping said reports. These are mostly 2013ish figures, measured by third parties. Treat with hefty pinches of salt.

  • Apple (laptops): 76
  • FreeAgent: 72
  • Apple (iPhone): 70
  • Amazon: 69
  • Apple (all): 69
  • Apple (iPad): 65
  • TurboTax: 54
  • Google: 53*
  • Netflix: 50
  • TripAdvisor: 36
  • Consumer hardware average: 32
  • Blackberry phones: 27
  • Microsoft tablets: 26
  • Tech industry average: 25
  • Consumer software average: 21
  • Yahoo Travel: 14
  • McAfee: 2

*Unclear if this is just search or all Google products. Chris Collingridge has calculated an unofficial Google Search NPS of 79, albeit with potential sample bias.

A ‘world class’ NPS is 50+, with most companies across all sectors coming in between 5–15. A few outside the tech sector:

  • Costco: 78
  • Southwest Airlines: 66
  • Marriott hotels: 62
  • First Direct (UK bank): 62
  • Tesco Mobile: 47
  • American Express: 41
  • Direct Line: 20
  • HSBC: -13

Ideas and/or data

Andy Clarke’s post What man, laid on his back counting stars… is a call to recognise the role of ideas and intuition in design. Bravo: we need more of this stuff.

Our industry has reached sufficient maturity to sustain different styles and schools of thought. This can only be a good thing.

My design approach relies on strong fundamentals: signifiers, metaphor, language. I thrive on improving a product over time through prioritisation, and helping a whole team see user experience as a shared concern. My favourite raw materials are user insight, strategy, design theory, and strong team relationships. This approach makes me reliable, if occasionally conservative.

I get the impression that Andy is more of a flair designer, thriving off sparks of creativity and inspiration. His raw materials will be different: perhaps they’ll be time, exploration, synthesis. That’s great. I’m a little envious of that style myself, but it’s just not me. If you want a Creative Director for your agency, Andy’s your man. I’d end up installing a different team and culture.

Andy’s article sets out a spectrum of design styles:

A spectrum with ends 'Data-led product design' and 'Idea-led web design'

I see things a bit differently:

Quadrant model. X-axis 'product design' and 'web design'. Y-axis 'idea-led', 'data-led'

I add an extra axis because I don’t think product design means data-led design any more than web design means idea-led design. To me, the axes are orthogonal.

I should recognise some controversy here. Some folks dispute my separation of product design and website design, arguing they’re the same thing. I’m convinced they’re not, although I do agree there’s a continuum, not two distinct buckets. I’ll write more about this in due course.

Rewards

The approaches that succeed at company are largely a function of the company’s culture and lifecycle.

Data-based approaches tend to be highly valued in engineering cultures, sales cultures, mature product cultures, larger teams, and companies that have high volume and low margins.

Idea-based approaches tend to be more highly valued in entrepreneurial cultures, design cultures, companies with nascent products, and teams with lower volume and higher margins.

These aren’t fixed patterns, but I see them pretty often.

These valued approaches therefore change as a company evolves. Successful methods of a 50-person startup won’t work at a public company of 3000. As products and companies grow, they typically drift toward data-driven approaches. For that, we can thank capitalism and the nature of large systems: it’s easier to focus on reliable incremental improvement than risky reinvention. As we know, this can also blind a company, leaving it vulnerable to disruption from an idea-led competitor that attacks the problem in a new way.

What gets noticed?

Of the quadrants in my model, some get more attention, for sure.

It’s certainly true that the tech press is more interested in writing about apps than websites. Product companies are the ones talking about venture capital rounds, MAUs, hypergrowth: juicy American dream stuff. Website companies, less so.

But if anything, I think the industry is enthralled by apps built on ideas. The hot startups, the disruptors, the TechCrunch fodder are the companies building on an idea they hope will render their competitors irrelevant. Data-led product design is seen as something for the optimisers, the big boys, the unsexy. Adobe, Amazon, Facebook perhaps. These companies face a big challenge to retain their appetite for bolder bets. Some would argue the endeavour is likely doomed.

But it doesn’t matter what’s hot in the press. The four approaches in my model are all fundamentally sound. As with any discussion about beliefs, the danger lies in the extremes. It’s possible to become so invested in a data-only or idea-only approach that you become blind to the value of fitting your approach to the context.

Product design that’s driven entirely by data is horrible. It leads us down a familiar path: the 41 shades of blue, the death by 1000 cuts, the button whose only purpose is to make a metric arc upward. It’s soul-destroying for a designer. But its moderate counterpart, data-informed product design, is fine. It reduces risk, and encourages confidence and accountability.

Product design driven entirely by ideas is equally painful. The romantic notion of design genius and the Big Idea soon gets swamped by a culture of risk, favouritism, and blame. Idea-informed product design is fine. It provides agility, creativity, the power to see blindspots and seize opportunities.

I fully agree with Andy that we should never lose sight of the aspects of design that give soul to our work. These are just as prevalent in product design as they are in website design. Granted, they may manifest in different ways (mostly motion design for products, often art direction for websites), but design is a fantastic synthesis of ideas and outcomes, and will always be so.

Design's Not Dud Yet

[Some of our designers and PMs started an email thread about Mills Baker’s Designer Duds: Losing Our Seat At The Table. Here was my contribution, lightly edited.]

I agree with the majority of the post. There’s some wonderfully glossy and rather pointless design out there at present. But I don’t quite agree with Baker’s claim that success is to be judged only through utility and adoption:

“A “great” design which produces bad outcomes—low engagement, little utility, few downloads, indifference on the part of the target market—should be regarded as a failure.”

Great design can be an act of shaping culture.

Juicy Salif lemon squeezer

Anyone who’s read Don Norman will know that Juicy Salif is not a good product by these yardsticks. It does not squeeze lemons well. It’s outsold by countless more functional, cheaper versions.

But it’s an important product in that it demonstrates that everyday objects can be playful, beautiful, surprising. I don’t think it’s a stretch to draw a conceptual line between Juicy Salif and, say, the Dyson Airblade: both are novel products that makes you reconsider the genre. Only one is particularly commercially useful.

Sure, utility is still the key outcome of design, but let’s not ignore its broader potential. Design can have aesthetic and cultural impact too, even if that is only to inspire designers working on more essential products.

Consistency and coherence

In cross-platform design, some things should be consistent. But others are better being coherent.

In London, we work on two quite different Twitter apps. One (Twitter for Tablets) is designed for mainstream users: sofas, snacking, second screens. The other (TweetDeck) is designed primarily for journalists: desktops, busy newsrooms, breaking stories.

They’re both Twitter, but they’re different Twitter. So we have to work out what should be the same, and what should flex.

We identify the atomic, inviolable units—the “tweet anatomy”, language, button styles, core destinations like DMs—and ensure these are consistent. Enforcing similar presentation and behaviour means users can rely on core functionality, and helps a Twitter user make sense of these apps when they first use them.

For other elements—navigation, interaction styles, certain transitions, advanced features—consistency would be too constraining. No need to repress valuable differentiation. (We’ve made that mistake before.) Instead, we ensure these elements are coherent. Where there’s a good reason for them to diverge—to better serve that userbase and their contexts—we let them. What matters is not that the parts are the same, but that they come together to form a unified whole.

Why don't designers take Android seriously?

If you’ve talked to me in the past few months, you’ll have heard me explain that I think Android is the dominant platform of the next decade. There are two main reasons.

Adoption

Smartphone market share


Android is gobbling market share at an unprecedented rate. Now, this doesn’t make it a one-horse race. This market share is coming at the expense of feature phones, Symbian, and Blackberry – it doesn’t appear to be taking much from iOS. Nor will we necessarily end up with a mirror of the PC/Mac split: the total addressable market for handsets is far larger than that for computers. So far, the market appears easily big enough for two major players.

However, the growth patterns of Android are what give it such power. Android utterly dominates in emerging markets. I’m no analyst or global market specialist, but it’s clear that major tech companies recognise this, and many have launched low-end Android clients to address these markets. While developing nations are nearing smartphone saturation, there’s enormous growth potential in the rest of the world. The curve will continue, and it’s likely that Android will reach a larger proportion of humanity than any comparable technology, if it hasn’t already.

Device proliferation

And that’s just the smartphones. As the cost of processors and networks falls, a slew of tiny, cheap, connected devices will emerge from the R&D labs into the shops. Call it the Internet of Things if you like – I prefer ‘cooperating devices’.

These tiny, cheap, connected devices are going to need an operating system. Preferably one that’s free (monetarily free, at least), reliable, well-maintained, and has good interoperability.

It won’t be iOS, since Apple appears to have no interest in licensing it to third-party hardware. Instead, I expect they’ll launch an Apple-only ecosystem of cooperating devices. (I could argue they’re already part-way there.) Since they own the full stack they’d be able among the first to offer excellent IoT-like experiences, demonstrate value to consumers, and hence generate a mainstream market. They’d need a ton of cash to do this – fortunately, they have it.

I also don’t think it’ll be another OS. The others (Windows, Windows Phone, Firefox OS, Linux, etc) lag far behind, or have retrograde trajectories. That may change, but since global reach is slow I’d have thought it’ll be several years before we see another major OS player.

I also don’t think it’s the web browser. In theory the browser meets the criteria – cheap, ubiquitous, interoperable – and the web community would love it to win. But, bluntly, it is losing in terms of capabilities, performance, and user experience, where native apps are far ahead. Browsers are improving, and at last catching up in terms of hardware access, but if the browser is to become the One True Platform it will need to overcome significant systemic deficiencies. A browser permanently playing catch-up will always be an additional, potentially redundant, layer in the technology stack. If a single OS ends up running >90% of the world’s connected devices, why bother writing software for the browser?

Anyway. I wrote this tweet…


…and received a ton of responses. I’m not going to embed them or name names – I respect a lot of the people who chipped in, and I’m going to be pretty ruthless in my dismissal of their arguments.

The replies fell into two broad categories, of which I’ll give both charitable and uncharitable interpretations.

1. Android is difficult

These arguments were familiar: fragmentation’s a hassle, the landscape is too fluid, Android lacks a design aesthetic, the Android UX is poor. I think unfamiliarity with Android played a small part in these responses. Kitkat is light years ahead of the Gingerbread era, and if you haven’t tried Android recently it’s definitely worth another look. I don’t quite agree with Stammy’s claim that Android is better, but it’s certainly much improved.

Fragmentation is of course the bête noire of Android design, and is certainly a challenge for designers and engineers alike. But the word itself reflects a subtle framing issue. It’s not hard to think of positive synonyms: fragmentation as choice; fragmentation as diversity.

As web designers have learned over the last few years, device diversity is natural, welcome, and manageable. Many responsive web design techniques – eg fluid layout, breakpoints, resolution independence – are essential principles of Android design. In fact, they’re handled in a more technically profound way on Android than the web.

Android design is indeed more difficult than iOS design in that it offers fewer constraints. But any skilled designer can handle that with a bit of effort. My uncharitable interpretation for this class of responses is simple laziness, and if Android forces designers to drop a pixel-perfect mentality and adopt approaches that suit a diverse world, then that’s no bad thing.

2. User behaviours are different

The other replies were mostly variations on the theme that Android users don’t pay for apps, they don’t have data plans, you can’t monetise them easily, and designers are all iPhone users and don’t really understand Android users.

This class of replies troubles me more than the first.

Economically, it seems shortsighted at best. Revenue models for digital products are fluid, and it can’t be good business sense to just write off a majority userbase. Appropriate methods are out there: the 450m monthly users of WhatsApp (the majority of whom use Android) are certainly willing to pay for something that adds real value to their lives.

It’s also important to remember that we aren’t designing products just for today. A sound product strategy will also be looking to address the market that exists in the coming years. Even in emerging markets, the data plans are coming, and the revenue won’t be far behind.

Socially, excluding Android users seems almost prejudicial. Unlike Android is difficult, this isn’t about about mere convenience; it’s a value judgment on who is worth designing for. Put uncharitably, the root issue is “Android users are poor”.

I do hope, given tech’s rhetoric about changing the world and disrupting outdated hierarchies, that we don’t really think only those with revenue potential are worth our attention. A designer has a duty to be empathetic; to understand and embrace people not like him/herself. A group owning different devices to the design elite is not a valid reason to neglect their needs.

I recognise that I have a fairly rare stance, given the ideology that surrounds platform issues: I don’t care which platform ‘wins’. I’m a very happy user of iOS, Android, and the web. I expect this post will upset a few people who believe their approach is best, but my only criterion of successful technology is that it enriches the lives of the world. Right now, Android looks to me like the best vehicle for doing that at the largest scale, and I think designers are mistaken if they disregard its potential.

[If you’d like to know more, I’m helping to organise a London Android design meetup soon. Follow me on Twitter for more information.]

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