The user problem
User study conundrum
Like most of my articles and posts, this one too talks about the variations in the needs of the user and what the user is sold. What is different this time is what I have been putting under the rug all these years. Why are the needs of the user themselves skewed? Why is then our interpretation of them even more skewed? Also, Why am I stressing on the word sold?
It is really strange that we ‘techies’ crib about the problems faced with Zomato food delivery, or Uber location not catering to the actual needs, and all of that; but then just go on creating the same problems in the products that we are responsible for. Letting our users crib some more. No one is really listening to them anyway. We still are almost completely tech centric. The user study that we do is a mere checkmark on the product roadmap or more often than not a subtle way of forcing the tech down the helpless user’s throats.
“When you marry the idea, you divorce the user”
When was the last time you canned a product after understanding that you may not be addressing the central user requirement? And perhaps creating more problems in the process? Tech and business have always decided what people should buy. When I say this, most of the times someone will quote Ford saying (*read in mimicking voice) “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” And the people commenting this, are not conceptualising cars, mind you. They are just using existing tech, collating for another application and incrementally trying to better the product. Also, users are not as dumb as you make them appear to be, to want faster horses.
Incremental betterment, always go with the user, path-breaking innovation, maybe go with the gut.
Why do we think that a user would have asked for a faster horse anyway? We have numbed the user down to such an extent that they are innately thinking about how we would solve their problems for them. They constrain their wishlist for us and that is a grave problem. In the previous week, I went to a hospital for user study. I’m not saying that this article is born out of that visit, neither am I saying otherwise. With the plenty of user interactions I’ve had over the years in formal and informal setup, insitu and exsitu, most of the times, all my energy goes into making them understand that we are here to understand what and why. Please don’t get caught up with how. How is our problem and leave it to us. It is our responsibility to solve for the how, for your whats and whys.
The other mammoth issue that I see and more so in healthcare is that the user of the product isn’t the one who buys it and that creates a massive friction between all parties — amongst the users at all levels, the buyers and the development and the design teams. Realise that the buyers are the bosses of the users, so there is already some inherent friction there. And we magnify that by giving the buyers the upper hand in dictating the user requirements. That is effectively mandating of the job description that the bosses expect out of the already tired out users. The buyers thus get their say in the development of the product thereby increasing the gap and discontent further.
Look at ourselves too! We dread any updates on the softwares that we use. ‘Finally we got this thing working, please don’t change it now’, we say! Why are we making all crappy products? People using our products wish to go back when times were simpler and we were smarter than the products we use. Now the products just appear to be smart but are really dumb. Overpromising and underdelivering is the motto looks like.
When I extrapolate this, I realise one of the problem lies in the goals of the organisation. If you are focussed on the number of sales that you make and revenue that you earn, you will surely make quick buck, but that will be short-lived. Or worse, it isn’t short-lived and you are a big enough company who sets the bar very low and the world is incapable of aiming higher. Your goals should be the value to the user, nothing else. Quantifiable value of your products. There can be metrics created for every value that the products impart. Volumes, usage and other such sales/marketing based metrics are not the right ones. You are shoving your product down the user’s throats, so there is no need of being proud of the sales that you made. You are entitled enough to force them use the product, whether they like it or not, so don’t parade your usage statistics. Usage statistics will always be high in a monopolistic market.
I remember a time when a customer service company that I used to work in, one day, changed their model and said that they will charge the clients only if we resolve customer’s queries. Otherwise, do not pay us. Now that is a really bold move in the direction of aligning company goals to the value for the user. This would lead everyone work on the product more, to understand what the user’s really need through different types of studies. To set aside peripheral goals such as sales and marketing. Making the product better, then, definitely people will get talking, realising that such a commitment towards the users is absent in other products, thereby letting the product speak for itself.
Make all your employees meet the users frequently. Sensitise them to the pain that the users go through. Work together and solve that. There is no easy way out. And since that happens to be the job of a designer, listen to them.
If you enjoyed reading this piece, consider reading, “Why don’t you be real, app?”