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.

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?


One size does not fit all

While spending a rather large amount of time in airplanes recently, including one rather uncomfortably long flight from Dubai to Chicago it got me thinking about the idea of one size fits all – and it’s application to the airline industry.

Unless you fortunate enough to be able to fly business class (never mind first class) and you are tall you will know the discomfort I am talking about. We (us tall people) have to make do with economy class – which sadly just adopts a one size fits all approach to passenger comfort. It amazes me that no airline has taken the opportunity to create a custom option for taller passengers in economy class. I know that you can try book a seat at the emergency exits to try gain some extra leg room – but getting one is still very much based on ‘luck’. I would happily pay a little extra for my economy class ticket if an airline would include one or two rows with seats that are larger and have more legroom, which could be set aside for taller passengers – surely this is not something which would decrease overall revenue but rather increase it through slightly higher ticket prices combined with greater customer loyalty?

Or are all people over 6 foot ‘rich’ and able to afford business or first class? Or is it that the demand for tickets is just so high that they don’t actually have to care?


Update: Since writing this I have found that both British Airways and Lufthansa offer a premium economy option as well as a few other airlines. Seems I was unlucky in my choice of airline!



Emotions and design

I read this post by my colleague Jesse Friedman at Automattic during the week:

Don’t become emotionally invested in your design until the people who use it do

I often feel that most of my time studying design was spent learning to disassociate my personal emotions from my work and be able to look at it objectively and from the perspective of the customer – and it’s something I think as a designer one has to continually fight against. It’s very easy to just open up a new canvas and start designing something that looks great vs designing something that people will use – and don’t get my wrong – I’m not saying the two are mutually exclusive.

Just this week at WooThemes, we put out a ‘small’ additional page needed on the site – and that quote was very relevant. The success of the new design was enabled by the fact that no-one on the team involved tried to over-control their specific role or contribution. Everyone was open to input – or as Jesse said – no-one became emotionally invested in their specific contribution.

I think the same could be applied to MVPs as I wrote about last week – the more time you spend working on something – especially in isolation – creates a greater chance that you will become emotionally ‘over-involved’ in your design or product. Rather involve others, get feedback and stay open to criticism.