Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Want Better UX? Change the Conversation.

If you’ve ever been a user experience designer, you’ve probably heard people say something like this when starting a new project:
  • We want to make it delightful and easy to use.
  • We need to do some user research.
  • We want to improve our onboarding process.
  • We think it needs a walkthrough for new users.
  • We want a persona/photoshop mockup/wireframe/landing page/insert deliverable here.
All of these statements are absolutely useless. Why? Because none of them help you decide what to work on or how to improve a product.

So, the next time somebody introduces a UX project by asking for a specific deliverable or by giving vague instructions to “make it better,” you need to change the conversation.

You can do that by asking the following questions:
  • Who is the target user for this product or feature?
  • What problem are you trying to solve for those users?
  • What business need are you trying to fulfill with this project?
  • What metric are you trying to move?
  • Why do you think that solving this particular user problem will move that metric?
I know you want it to be delightful. But what metric does it move? — Tweet This

How Do These Questions Help Users?

The most important thing about these questions is that they help you define three things that are critical to a successful design project:
  1. The problem you are trying to solve
  2. The reason you are trying to solve it
  3. The way you will know if you’ve succeeded
Of course you want a better design. How will you know if you’ve succeeded? — Tweet This
Design without these elements isn’t really user experience design. It’s just drawing pictures. Design is about solving real problems, both for users and for the business. In fact, at its best, design is about solving problems for the business (for example, generating revenue or improving retention) by solving problems for the user (for example, offering something somebody wants to buy or helping make their lives better).
Design should solve problems for your business by solving problems for your user. — Tweet This 
By knowing the answer to these questions, you are far more likely to build a product that users want to use and that improves key metrics for your company.

How Do These Questions Help Designers?

Answering these questions can be incredibly helpful for individual designers. When we ask these questions, we reframe the project to give the designer far more freedom to solve problems, which is, after all, the fun part of the job.

Instead of being told “change the onboarding flow” or “create a tutorial walkthrough,” we get asked to “improve the 10 day activation metric for new users.”

As designers, we get to create our own hypotheses about how we will improve that metric rather than simply implementing someone else’s vision.

More importantly, we can understand when our designs were successful, because we have a specific metric against which we can measure our results. This kind of direct feedback can make us better designers.

How Do These Questions Help Engineers?

These questions can be incredibly useful for defining the scope of a project, which has a very real impact on engineering. For example, poorly defined projects are particularly susceptible to scope creep.

After all, if you don’t have a very solid idea of the problem you’re trying to solve or the metric you’re trying to move, it’s very easy to justify adding “just one more thing.” But when you have a clearly defined problem, it’s easy to push back on new feature requests that don’t contribute directly to solving that problem.

What to Do If They Can’t Answer Those Questions

The first few times you try to change the conversation, you may get push back. You’ll get clients or product managers or engineers who simply can’t answer these questions. Keep asking them.

If people can’t answer the questions, you need to help them get the answers before you start work on the project. Otherwise, you’re shortchanging your users, your company, your team, and yourself.

Like the post? Follow me on Twitter!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Most Important User You're Not Talking To

Do you have a product? With users? 

If you answered “yes” to both of those questions, you have an amazing untapped source for product research. And I’m not talking about your users. 

I mean, sure, you should be listening to users and observing them. A lot. But there’s another group of people who can provide you with incredible insights into your product. 

You should be talking to people who used your product once and then abandoned it. Tweet This!

Specifically, you need to ask these people the following questions:
  • What were you expecting when you tried this product?
  • How did it not meet your expectations? 
This research will help you understand three things very clearly:
  • What your messaging and acquisition strategy is telling people to expect.
  • What problem the people you are acquiring are trying to solve.
  • Why your product doesn’t solve this problem for the people you are acquiring. 
You’ll notice that I mentioned “acquisition” in each of the above points. This is intentional. You see, one of the things you are very likely to find out from this sort of research is that you are getting entirely the wrong group of people to try out your product. 

If you’ve been spending a lot of time optimizing your ads and your messaging for sign up conversion rather than for actual product usage and retention, it may turn out that you are acquiring a whole lot of the wrong sort of user for your product, which can be a costly mistake. This kind of research is fabulous for understanding if that’s true. 

The other thing that this research helps with is understanding whether or not you’re adequately solving the problem you think you’re solving in a way that users can understand. If new users can’t figure it out what your product does and how to do it in a few seconds, they’ll leave without ever knowing that your product was the solution to their problem. 

Of course, this isn’t the easiest group of people to interview. These folks can be tricky to track down and tough to schedule. But finding a way to interview people who thought they wanted to use your product and then changed their minds is something that will pay off hugely in the long run.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Making More UX Designers

Over the last few years, I’ve had an increasing number of people ask the same two questions. Specifically I get asked:
Where can I find a good UX designer?
How can I get into UX?

The best possible solution is, of course, to teach the people in the second group how to do the job and then introduce them to the people in the first group. The second best solution is to teach the people in the first group to do it for themselves. I’ve been experimenting lately with both of these approaches. 

This need for creating more UX designers is one of the biggest reasons I joined Tradecraft as an instructor at the beginning of the year. My co-teacher, the amazing Kate Rutter, and I each spend 3 days a week working with smart, motivated, tech-savvy students, teaching them UX design fundamentals like user research, task flows, personas, wireframing, and prototyping. Most importantly, we teach them to think like UX designers. 

Because it’s an intensive 12 week program, students have time to learn UX skills and apply them on real projects for real companies. They also learn from frequent guest mentors and speakers. 

It’s a competitive program. We don’t take many students. We’re not interested in churning out a lot of mediocre designers. We want to take a few people each quarter and turn them into great designers whom we’d be happy to recommend for jobs. We prefer people who have experience in some area of design, product management, user research, or engineering. 

So, if you’re someone who desperately wants to become a UX designer, and you want hands-on coaching from a couple of people who’ve been doing this for quite a few years, you should apply to Tradecraft for the next quarter. Or, if you’re a manager at a larger company, and you have a promising UX designer or Product Manager who needs some serious coaching to get to the next level, you should consider sponsoring that employee in the program. Lastly, if you’re looking for a newly minted UX designer, we’ve got a few of those graduating at the end of March. 

And if you want more information about any of it, you should email me at laura@usersknow.com and ask.

By the way, Tradecraft also has programs for people who want to be Growth Hackers and Sales People.



Friday, February 7, 2014

Building the Right Thing vs Building the Thing Right

This originally appeared as a guest post on the O'Reilly Programming Blog.

I love it when companies test prototypes. Love love love it. But it makes me incredibly sad when they use prototype testing for the wrong thing.

First, let me give you my definition of “prototype testing” here. I often build interactive, or semi-interactive, prototypes when designing a product. These prototypes are not actual products. They’re simulations of products. People who see the prototype can often click around them and perform some simple tasks, but they’re generally not hooked up to a real back end system.

“Well, what good is that?” you might reasonably ask. Excellent question. Interactive prototypes are incredibly useful for finding problems in usability testing settings. In a checkout flow, you might create a simple interactive prototype and watch four or five people go through the process (with test accounts) in order to find out if there were any parts of the flow they found confusing or hard to use.

It’s a great technique for any reasonably complicated interaction that you want to test before you spend a lot of time writing code. Interactive prototype testing can save you a ton of time because it helps you make sure that you’re building the product right before you spend a lot of time and money actually writing code.

Read the rest of this post on the O'Reilly blog >

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lean UX Videos

Recently, I've been experimenting with new ways of delivering information about UX for Lean Startups. Yes, this is a very poor excuse for not blogging as much. But it's also a genuine effort to get information about user experience design to new people.

As part of this effort, I'm making a series of short (10 minutes or so) videos for UXD for Developers. This is a show on YouTube produced by the folks at the Android Developer Network at Google.

Two of my videos are already posted, and at least one more is on the way. A list of all the videos (including some that I'm not in) is here: UXD for Developers.

In my episodes, I cover an Intro to Lean UX and Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research for UX.

New episodes are released every Tuesday, so make sure to subscribe to the channel to get all the updates!


Friday, October 25, 2013

How Bad Can I Make My Product?

Imagine that I have a product that cures cancer. Sadly, the side effect is that you may lose a few toes. I’ll bet that I would still have a huge line of customers who want to use my product.

Now, instead of curing cancer, imagine that the product tells you where you should eat lunch. Unfortunately, the toe-loss thing still applies. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’ll probably have far fewer customers.

This seems obvious. Sacrificing a toe or three doesn’t seem like a big deal when weighed against your life, but it’s a different story when it’s just lunch. Even a really good lunch.

If you are asking your users to put up with a lot of pain, you need to do so in the context of giving them something extraordinary. I get asked all the time how to tell when something is good enough. Does it have enough features? Is the visual design pretty? What if it has a couple of bugs?  The answer to all of these questions is that it depends on whether the users are getting enough in return.

Every startup has a slightly different calculus for deciding what product to put out into the world, but I’m going to give you a piece of advice that will make this all a little easier: if you’re solving a really big problem that nobody else is solving, your early adopters will be quite tolerant.

This is one of the reasons why B2B applications often get away with being so awful and hard to use. If a product helps me do my job better and makes me more money, it’s solving a big problem for me. I’ll put up with a few missing features or a less than stellar experience. (There are lots of other reasons B2B applications are terrible, of course, but that’s not what this blog post is about.)

Of course, there is a minimum standard for anything you put out in the world. People have to understand what it does, for example, and be able to use it to solve their really serious problem. In other words, it needs to be both usable and useful. But the more useful it is, the more of a pass you get on a lot of the nice-to-haves.

To be clear, this is not a pass to make your product awful. Think of this as an encouragement to build something important that solves serious problems for people and to get it into their hands as quickly as possible.

Like the post? Follow me on Twitter!

Like the post but wish there were more of it? Buy the book!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Stop Making Users Explore

Often, entrepreneurs ask me something to the effect of, “What’s the best way to let new users explore my product?”

My answer is almost always a variation of, “Stop it.” In order to be slightly more helpful, let’s look at why this is a terrible question.

Users Don’t Care About Exploring Your Product

Nobody cares about your product. Fundamentally, what users care about is themselves. They are using your product as a means to an end. We knew this back in 1960 when Theodore Levitt explained that when customers buy quarter inch drills, they really are buying quarter inch holes.

Think about the last time you bought a drill. Did you sit down with the drill in order to spend time exploring it? Not unless you’re some sort of drill fetishist. What you almost certainly did was try to figure out the fastest way that you could set about completing the project for which you had bought the drill.

The same is true of whatever product you’re building. I know that you care deeply about the user interface of your product and all of the delightful features you have so lovingly handcrafted. Sadly, nobody else does. At least, not in the same way that you do.

People want whatever your product promises to do for them, and they want it to happen as quickly and easily as possible. They don’t want to explore your tax preparation software. They want their taxes done. They don’t want to delve deeply into the mysteries of your To Do List software. They want to not miss deadlines.

But What About B2B Products?

I know, I know. B2B products are different! They’re more complex! They have so many features! They require training and exploration!

Nonsense.

All of those incredibly complicated, feature-dense pieces of B2B software that require weeks of training are getting disrupted by things that humans actually understand. I worked with a company that required all documents be shared by filing a ticket with IT to create a personal folder on a shared server which then required mounting a new drive onto the desktop and...blah blah blah. Everybody just used Dropbox, even though it was officially forbidden by the company.

The fact is, people in big companies are forced to work with dozens of complicated products every single day. The introduction of a new, complicated product does not instill in them the desire to spend a lot of their day exploring it. It tends to make them sigh resignedly and figure out if there is some way to avoid learning the new system until it goes away and is replaced by something else.

The only way to make a product that people at work want to use is to make a product that is so obvious and easy to operate that they don’t feel like they have to explore it. They can just jump in, share a document, send an email, or do whatever task it is that they wanted to do originally. They shouldn’t have to explore anything to do their jobs.

But...but...but...Games!

Nope. Sorry. Still very little open exploration for new users.

I mean, sure, you can wander all over GTAV and steal as many cars as you want. But have you ever noticed how many quests and tasks and hints you’re given along the way as a new player? Actually, you probably haven’t. Really successful games are fabulous at getting you onboarded without making you feel like you’re going through a tedious training session but also without just dumping you directly into the deep end.

In fact, in good games, the real exploration doesn’t come until users are pretty comfortable with all the basic actions they need to be successful. Often, advanced features are hidden from users until they are unlocked. This not only provides the user with an incentive to keep playing, but it effectively hides complexity until the user is ready for it.

Think about hiding a rocket launcher from a new FPS player. Now think about hiding quarterly estimates from a tax preparer until you know that she needs to file quarterly estimates. There’s a surprising similarity. Note: hiding rocket launchers from people doing their taxes is also not a terrible idea.

E-Commerce?

Again, not really. While online stores do encourage you to explore and browse, you’ll notice that they don’t have you exploring and browsing the store itself. They have you exploring and browsing the products they want you to buy.

When you’re selling widgets, it’s all about showing off the widgets as quickly as possible. Even while you’re looking at a widget, the site or app is immediately offering you more widgets that you might be interested in.

It’s not about exploration of the product itself. It’s about getting you involved with the things the product is selling.

What Should You Do Instead?

Stop thinking about letting users explore your product. In fact, stop thinking about letting them do anything at all.

When a new user comes to your product, give them a task. Have them do the most obvious, low-friction thing that they will need to do in order to become a slightly more experienced user of the product.

Twitter is an excellent example. When you first join, they don’t just tell you to explore Twitter. They have you immediately start following people. This not only introduces you to the concept of following people, but it gives you a nice, low-friction way to start using the product in the manner it’s meant to be used.

Of course, figuring out what that most obvious first task is can be tricky. In order to do it well, you need to truly understand why your user might want to use your product. What problem are they trying to solve? What task do they want to accomplish? How do they want to change their lives? What sort of hole are they trying to drill?

Once you understand that, you’ll know how to create an onboarding experience that won’t force people to explore your product before using it. In fact, they’ll never have to explore it. They’ll just be able to accomplish their task and get on with their now-improved lives. And that, after all, is exactly why they wanted to use your product in the first place.

Like the post? Follow me on Twitter!

Want more advice like this? 


How about buying the book? It will help you learn how to build great products. I promise.