Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You Know Too Much

This is not an earth shattering revelation. Think of it more as a friendly reminder that even people who have been doing UX for a very long time can get obvious things wrong.

For the last three months, I've been working on what I think is going to be an amazing product. Thanks to some fantastic engineers and some really hard work, our MVP is already out, and people are using it in closed beta. It's tremendously exciting.

The important thing to note is that I've been thinking about this product really, really hard for the last three months. We all have. We know everything about this product - who it's for, what it does, what it's going to do.

And that's the thing. We're crowdsourcing designs for children's clothing, sizes 2-6. We know that. We know that because that's what we told all of our wonderful, independent designers. We know that because those are the sizes we ordered from the manufacturers. We know that because that's the size of the models that we're using.

Which is why it was so surprising when I did a very quick user feedback session with someone who had used the site for the first time, and she pointed out that she wasn't sure what the age range on the clothes was supposed to be.

But then I looked at the site and tried, really hard, to see it from the point of view of somebody who hadn't been thinking about the product for three months - or even three minutes. And I realized that there was simply no way for users to know something that was so baked into our view of the product that we didn't even think to explain it.

It's a small thing, but it's incredibly important. After all, choosing designs you like for a 4 year old is quite different from choosing designs you like for a 40 year old, and crowdsourcing only works if the crowd knows what it's supposed to be picking.

This is why I'm so glad that we talk to users, even when we think things are simple or obvious. What is obvious to us is probably more likely not to be obvious to our users because we don't spend any time informing them of it.

We are making one very small, quick fix for this that should happen immediately, and we have a larger feature that I've already added a story for and hope goes into the product in the next couple of weeks.

The important reminder here is that I know too much about my product, and you know too much about your product. We think too much about our own products to be able to truly understand what a new user experiences.

Again, this is not a new concept, but it's a critical one if you're trying to make something that is truly simple and intuitive. You need to understand your user's starting point so that you can take her on a journey through your product without losing her along the way.

The single easiest way to see things through the eyes of your new user is to simply watch your user interacting with your product for the first time and talk to her about the experience. Don't try to do this without help from your users. You know way too much.