Despite the popular rise of a -centered culture lead by companies like AirBnB and Apple, it is not uncommon for software product teams to lack a basic . This article addresses three ways to tell if don’t know enough about your users.

Copyright © 2014 Illustrations by Tom Fishburne. From the book “Talking to Humans”

You see your users as one broad segment

For example, if you believe your target users are “everyone who cooks dinner”, you define your target users too broadly. This is a problematic top-down approach that indicates you are not sure about what problem you are solving. It says more about what segments you dream of targeting than what user needs and potential problems you could be addressing.

Everyone who cooks dinner will not buy your product. Targeting a really large segment is not specific enough to work with in practice. You dilute the conversation about users every time you frame them as a broad segment. It’s a scattergun technique that is applied when you hope to reach as many people as possible instead of facing real user needs outside your R&D lab. You must solve a specific problem for your end users. You must familiarize yourself with all the details that make your users a unique group of people.

You never talk directly with your users

You have never talked with your users, and can’t put a face to them. Well, how would you test your ideas for new ? Even worse, if you already developed a product and now plan to initiate the first contact with users, you are most likely to going to fail. Or let’s reframe it; you are going to learn! A lot. And will probably have to throw away lots of code and design you spent weeks or even months carefully crafting. It’s expensive to work that way. Don’t ever build products on a gut feeling about your users. Learn as fast as possible.

You think YOU are the user

You see yourself or your team as your end users. Building something for yourself is fine, if you alone are the user. Your real users will have a different approach. If you are building consumer products, for example a cooking app, you can’t expect everyone to have the exact same approach to finding inspiration for what to cook for dinner. Familiarize yourself with the different ways people in your target audience seek inspiration for cooking. They might look up recipes online, take cooking courses or make food together with friends.

If you are building b2b products, you can’t expect everyone else to work the same way and use the same tools as you do. You might learn that most of your users actually use a different browser from you, they are restricted by specific workflow procedures, or that your application cannot play together with the 9 other applications they already use. Don’t let your own needs cast a shadow over the needs of end users.

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