The biggest user research asset in your company

Note: this post was originally published on our new Automattic design blog.

We speak a lot about user research at Automattic within our various product divisions and it’s easy to get your head down in the trenches and feel like you don’t have the time to come out to even see your users, never mind speak to them!

At times I feel like this, and in my role as the lead of the team responsible for maintaining the mothership that is WooCommerce.com and building out new features for it that benefit our customers, our list of projects is endless and the time to speak to customers is limited.

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Lightroom to WordPress

The WordPress.com team recently published a lightroom plugin that allows you to export your photos direct from Lightroom to WordPress – and it promised – No fuss, no mess!

As I was editing my photos from the Grand Meetup recently I decided to give it a try and see just how easy it was – and yes it lived up to the promise – no fuss, no mess.

If you are using WordPress.org (so a self-hosted site) you will need Jetpack to be installed on your site, as well as a WordPress.com account – but if you have both of those already – the set up is really simple and you can follow these easy steps.

The photos are added to your media library, where you can add them to posts, projects etc – really saving you time having to export from Lightroom and then re-import to WordPress.

Conversational design

I read Die Dashboards Die – by Nir Eyal recently and it resonated with me – but it also got me thinking about how some of this could be applied to traditional web design.

Personally, I feel that for too long now websites have just been a way of taking what would have been your printed marketing brochure and putting it online for anyone to see. We’ve replaced the job of the traditional salesman with Google search results, no longer do we have someone cold calling customers or driving from town to town meeting with prospective clients, instead we have optimised our sites to appear in search engines for favourable terms and then created funnels to see how well we convert these prospects once they reach our online brochures (websites).

Surely it’s time we moved beyond the traditional approach of a logo, menu, hero section, h1, intro text, icon, h4, paragraph, button, etc? Just taking a look at various ‘web design’ inspiration sites one can see that most sites all look the same, with the only real difference being how meticulously the visual design has been crafted.

Maybe (most) websites will essentially become some form of a live chat interface, where the website acts more as an enabler, rather than a passive arrangement of images and text? Where we will be talking to a website, rather than moving a mouse around a screen and clicking on a button based on its color. We can already do a lot of this with bots on our phones, but when will we see major changes in the way we are designing websites? How can your websites desktop experience complement and build on the experience of your customers interaction with your more ‘intelligent’ mobile experiences? If I find some good examples of this I will be sure to post a follow-up to this.

6 things I learnt from ‘hustling’

Hustle is a popular tech/startup term – but I have never really seen anyone explain what they did when they were hustling – you just hear them say they ‘hustled’ and then they were ‘successful’. It tends to be defined as:

Anything you need to do to make money… if you making money, you hustling.

In mid 2014 I found myself with my back against the wall so to speak – work was scarce, most of my clients had gone very quiet and we had actually just bought a new family home (living in a 2 bedroom townhouse was not sustainable) – and we were moving in at the end of the month with no sign of my next ‘pay check’. My wife is a stay-at-home mom too – so there was no paycheck to rely on there either!

As a result of these circumstances I found myself having to find a way to make some money – and make it fast.

I started out by scanning the conversations, posts and articles of the people I followed on the internet to find opportunities that aligned with my key strengths/skill-set – and remembered a few posts I had read on the Creative Market blog earlier in the year where they had started to share what some of their shop owners were earning selling on Creative Market – as I already had a shop on Creative Market I decided to give it a second chance.

For some background – I started my Creative Market shop early – just after they had launched and felt I saw an opportunity to create design related templates for the new launched Sketch software which was starting to become very popular as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I spent a good few evenings and weekend working on a mobile UI kit based on the then iOS 6 – and launched it – expecting great success – and it did get some immediate sales – but literally within days Apple upgraded to iOS 7 and with it came a whole new visual style – which my UI kit no longer catered to – and my sales stopped immediately. At this stage, I was contracted to work with a company – and the thought of having to do all the work over again and use up my evenings and weekends was not that appealing – so I put my Creative Market shop on ice.

Fast forward to 2014 – and I felt I would have a go at creating some products that I could sell on my Creative Market shop again – but I needed to make sure that the products I created could be made quickly so that I could generate sales across a range of products as soon as possible – and so I ended up having to ‘hustle’.

Now more than a year later I thought I would share my experience on what it meant to hustle:

H – Hard work
It’s important to realise that making anything of value is going to take hard work – you can try make a product quickly – but if you want to really ensure your product will stand out and be recognised then you going to need to put in the hard work it deserves. It also means not making sure you have all the perfect tools for the job – I used the old floor in my new house as the backdrop, collected items from my in-laws collection (they hoard stuff) and took photographs over the weekends while my two children had their afternoon sleep – trying to make sure I did not wake them up in the process as I crept around the wooden floor and making sure the photographing session was done by the time they woke up.

U – Understand
Try to understand the mindset of your customer – put yourself in their shoes and look at what value your product brings to them – will it make their life easier, simpler – can they design faster with your product etc?

S – Strengths
Don’t try to create products around a style that you aren’t familiar with as your first products – identify what your strengths are – and play to them – you will find you can get your products out much faster. If you still having to learn on the job, it’s not impossible, it just makes it that little bit harder.

T – Trust
At some point along the way you are going to have to trust the decisions you have made. Not every product or idea you come up with will be right. Just don’t give up at the first roadblock you experience. Learn from it and don’t do it again.

L – Luck
As you go you will start to find new doors and opportunities opening along the way for your ideas and or products. Don’t be shy – seize them and enjoy your success.

E – Enjoy
Lastly, and most importantly – make sure that you are actually enjoying what you are doing – as your customers will see your enjoyment through the time and effort you are putting into your products and the way you interact with them.

In the end, I made quite a bit of money during this period – and while hustling was great – it’s not something I feel you can sustain for a long period of time. I used the opportunity that I got from my sales to pursue other ideas and options and a year later find myself working as part of a great team on some really amazing products – applying a lot of what I learnt during that period of my life to my day-to-day job.

Build the company that you wouldn’t sell

I watched this talk ‘Build the company that you wouldn’t sell‘ by Zach Klein and it aligned well with this talk I watched by David Hieatt around the concept of doing one thing well.

It seems as though the norm these days when building a company is to start building it with your exit strategy in place before you even start thinking about your product or even your customers.

It would be interesting to be able to fast forward a few years and see where most of these products are – or maybe we should look back at some examples of companies or products that have been sold or acquired and see how many of them still exist or are continuing with the original vision – or was the product they sold in fact their customer base – rather than the actual product their customers bought?