You are not the User

You are not the User

I’ve heard it many many times, and I must admit I’ve done it myself. When developing it can happen that someone says things like “But I would do it that way!” or “Nah, I would not need that function right there, because we have this or that…”

Do you know that situation? If you have not enough chances to do user testings, interaction/visual designers tend to assume user behavior. And what would be easier to look at the own experiences and behavior for references?! I can totally understand that, and to a certain point designers have to do that. But it can be really dangerous. You can bring the system on a completely wrong track.

Who is the user? What ist the context?

These two question should be above everything else in a UX pros workday. When starting a new project it is crucial to analyze and document both extremely well, because everything else will be build on this informations. With the help of guided or semi-structured interviews with potential or existing users you can gather informations about their preferences, their experiences and their attitudes. And an UX pro has to know what of these informations are important for the product. Is it important which average age the user groups are? Or if they use certain smartphone? Is it important that they always fill out the name-textfield first? With this kind of interviews you will get maaaany informations. And for a profound analysis of the user and context you would need about 5-8 interview partners out of each closed user group… yes, that’s much to do, but it’s totally worth it. Once you’ve found a way through this mountain of informations and you have sorted, structured and documented it all, you can refer to this at all time during developing. And you have it in cold print: THIS is your user.

For example your users are: pharmaceutical sales representatives, aged 30-55, always on the run because they have many meetings per day with different hospitals and medical offices, they are heavily relied on their smartphones and tablets because they work whilst travelling, they have to talk to people that usually have no time or interest in marketing blurb because they could save some lives instead, they talk like in a foreign language because they use so many medical terms (and they manage to describe an anal probe as the most epic high-tech thing you have ever heard of), only a minor part of all users seem to spend much of their time outside of work with internet or technical related hobbies. And now please tell me: how much do you think you or your visual designer has in common with these users?

It doesn’t matter how good you think you are.

There’s a famous example of developing gone wrong done by people who usually know what they do. Do you know Google Buzz? It was a social media, mini-blogging thingy alive for about a year before it was closed because of Google+. It was a tool “for everyone”. And it was tested by about 20 000 google employees. What can go wrong with that much testing? Well… it launched with some features the average user couldn’t do anything with. There were loads of complaints and they had to drop these useless features. What was great for Google employees just did not has the same greatness for the everyday user. And why? For example Google employees send emails because they want to share informations with everyone else (inside Google or their office). Do you want to share informations with all the people you write emails to? It’s simply a different context…

Don’t show how great you are, the user won’t care

Visual Designers are show offs. No one can argue that. No, don’t try to. How often have you listened to them discussing this sparkle shiny new mac UI versus the win8 flat-design? In fact, all the users cared about in win8 is where the hell the start-button is…
Or the designer telling you how unnecessary accordion functions are because there’s this brand new awesome alternative they’ve seen on that artsy web-portfolio? Maybe the average user has even problems with old-fashioned accordions and are totally overwhelmed by a fancy function…
And designers show all that awesomeness in their work. They’ll spend much time finding the right pattern for a subtle background texture, because only then it will be “juicy” (An art director I’ve worked for used that word in every second sentence, I’ve never understood what it means…). The hurtful truth is: The user won’t see it. The user probably doesn’t care.

User only care about

  • solving their problem or task
  • being entertained
  • being in control
  • finding useful informations

You see: these are totally different perspectives and mindsets. I don’t say the subtle background pattern is redundant, it’s not! But I try to set priorities right. Prio #1 are the user needs, no discussion. Remember: great design is invisible!

Be an outsider.

With all that it just seems logical that the best way for those involved in the dev process is to try to stand outside. Understand your user, understand their needs, their context. But always try to keep a certain distance to the system. I know every designer puts passion in his work, and that’s what makes it great. But especially as UX pro try to bring the designer back to earth. It hurts sometimes and leads to big discussions, but the user comes first.
And only because you or your designer has no problem using google or know how to use different gestures on your smartphone, there are plenty of users out there that will surprise you. There are users that don’t care which browser they use or even know what a browser is.

And as an personal request: never call your users dumb or stupid. Not even inside your closed office walls. You can rant about your customer or the political bullshit you have to go through while developing with them (I do that excessively sometimes 😉 ). By customer I mean the one you have the contract with, they are very rarely real users themselves. But the real users have to have your total respect. No matter how big the differences. How can you concept a great system for someone you despise or disrespect?

Always look on your prototype with your user/context analysis in mind! Because you are not your users!




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