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 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.


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.

How many decisions does your customer making before buying your product?

Early this year I was part of a discussion around ‘how many design options to present’ and the topic of decision fatigue came up. Decision fatigue is defined as:

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.


It got me thinking about the role of decision fatigue in design and further, eCommerce. The popularity and continuing emergence of ‘curated’ product offerings is a clear indication that consumers are faced with too many decisions – and they are now happy to allow a company or service to help them make these decisions. Companies are continuing to invest in building ‘intelligent’ systems that leverage the data they have on our behavior to automatically curate our experience – thus reducing the number of options we are presented with and ultimately the number of decisions we need to make. As a result eCommerce has transformed from being a – come and look at everything we have process to rather a let me recommend the right products to the right customer at the right time process.

I would suggest that as designers and product managers we need to start including a decision fatigue audit as part of our design process – and not just looking at the final product page – but rather the entire decision making process and see how we can better understand the products we are selling, the differences between them – and look at ways to better recommend these products to the customer – either by using data tools available to you – or by being bold and simplifying the options and pre-empting their decisions. Rather let you customer say yes or no –  instead of I don’t know.

Research suggests that our short-term memory capacity allows us to simultaneously consider 6-9 choices – maximum – without starting to suffer from decision fatigue. I recommend walking through your product as a user to see how well your design accommodates this research. It’s also important to understand that choice doesn’t only relate to content – the more complex your navigation and interface is the more time it takes a user to understand how it works, and what to do next.