Aug 10, 2020, Design

Listening to users – worth it?

Magdalena Brzuska UX Team Leader

Probably everyone by now has heard a story about Henry Ford declaring that if he asked people what they want, they would reply that a faster horse. So, why bother asking future users of your product about their needs? You are a visionaire (or in our case – a designer), you know what to do! Well, hold your horses for now – in the following article we are about to dig into how to listen and how to avoid “overdesigning”. Shall we?

Why even bother?

When we talk/read/listen about the UX design, the word that comes up most often is – testing. Or examine. Or any other word that basically means “let’s see what they think (about it)”. What can be tested? At the beginning – needs, context, and approach. Although it’s not a whole package, we’ve already mentioned the most important one – famous needs. Why do we test, or rather examine users’ needs? First of all, it is not easy to walk into someone’s shoes, especially without a bias. Unfortunately, you cannot really design something perfectly fit to someone you don’t know or understand. So, at this stage examining users’ needs allows you to get basic information which is crucial for your product’s success. Ask yourself – would a Ford’s car be such a hit if it wasn’t faster and more reliable than a horse? Personally, I doubt that. 


Hearing, but not listening 

A lot of designers may say that it is almost impossible to create something life-changing/ revolutionary/flashy/hippie/whatever you call it, if you only rely on users’ input. First of all – no, you should not rely on users’ input ONLY. But we will get back to it in a second. 

There is a difference between hearing and listening. Probably there are times when you whine about not having enough time. If you got some extra hours – would that really solve the problem? Or maybe you don’t have time because you manage it ineffectively? Or because you commute 3h daily? Or because you have this one daily task that you hate doing but there is no other way around it? I hope you see what we did here. We came from hearing the need and then started asking questions about it in order to find the problem – the cause of this need. And what is design if not solving problems? So yes, if I could give you time (totally abstract but still, quite common) it would not be revolutionary. But if I could give you a product that would do this one annoying, time consuming task for you – you’d probably get excited. 

And there comes another important thing about solving problems. It is not always about inventing something totally new. It may be using something everybody knows to solve a problem in a new way as well. How is that even possible if we already know, have, and have seen everything? Well, every single thing or solution is placed in a specific context. If the context changes (which is quite common in our VUCA world), in most cases the solution will no longer be viable. Sometimes, we don’t even notice that and we use our old solutions. Because we know them, because we already love them, because it is a custom. But mainly because we did not stop and think how the changing context influenced our needs. Wrapping up – it is not really about asking “what do you want?”. The only two answers you can get from this question can be (of course in huge synthesis): “I want something new and shiny” or “I want it just as it is, but better”. Now lets deal with that.

The good and the better

The thing about “new and shiny things” is that they are cool until this is a one way transaction. If this new shiny thing is giving me some value and I do not have to pay for it – well, great! What we often miss is currency – there is nothing more valuable than users’ time. If you want someone to spend a lot of it playing around with your product – you better give them some real value. Haven’t found any exchange data for it but I guess it will be like this: 1minute of users’ time = 10minutes given value. Otherwise, no one cares (OK, just to clarify –  I’m talking here more about functional digital products rather than Instagram). 

Why do I think that minding users’ time is so important? Because some of the product explainers that land on my desk are beautiful, long, perfectly visualised (or not) but really overcomplicated. Those are mostly high level visions based on – very important word here – ASSUMPTIONS. “We think…/ We believe…/ We assume…/We imagine”. Do not get me wrong – assumptions are a very important element of the product discovery phase. Those allow us to test, bring up curiosity, and give a starting point. But if you want us to treat your assumptions as a guideline – you are tossing a coin. Often, it comes down to us explaining how we could create MVP out of this big vision and then being hit in reply – “This can not be that simple!”. Well, it can. Moreover, it should. Because “good” is already expensive, while “better” can end up being just an overpaid whim. 

Also, let’s use this horse story from the beginning: How do you think people would react if the first car was GT rather than Model A? Pretty sure that super expensive, aerodynamically shaped, loud toy totally not suited for anything less than perfectly flat roads would not really fit the middle class ‘20 mindscape. The thing is – people will not desire something they cannot use. Therefore as UX designers we follow architects in saying – Form Follows Function. 

So what then?

First of all – empathize. In design it means that each project should start with some time spent on target users, their habits, context and needs. There are a ton of methods for that. Even if for some reason you do not want to examine real users – we can handle that and still create a product well fitted to the market. However, we still need to think about users. And skipping examinations will only make us dig deeper into assumptions you came here with. 

Not knowing where to start digging? Do not do it by yourself. Contact us,  it will be our pleasure to cooperate with you. Together we can deliver everything!