Design Lessons: It’s for Real People!

Have you ever used a product for the first time and it just feels intuitive? You did not have to try and try and try again to find out how to do something with it. I have had that experience with several Google products. When I first used Google Docs for instance, I had been using Microsoft Word for a long time. Google Docs was just like a cleaner version that still had every thing I needed where I could easily find them: The same keyboard shortcuts that I was used to, easy to download my final document in whatever format I wished, etc. It was smooth, white, clean, simple, not so many widgets. This is in contrast to two other word processors I also tried: LibreOffice and WPS Office. With both of these two guys, I was mentally scarred. They were clunky, as though made by aliens. LibreOffice was like a bad imitation of Word, while WPS kept making me feel bad that I was using a free version. I was sure the premium version would not be any better.

This lesson is on Design Research. Design research is the process of gathering information that will be useful to design the product that best meets the needs of your customers. This information includes the problems of the customers, how they use or are going to use your product, their context/situation which may be different from yours in ways you did not imagine.

Design research must be user focused. It requires empathy. To execute it properly, you have to be ready to rethink your assumptions, biases and most of the things you already take for granted, and put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

The best way to carry out design research is going on field trips to understand firsthand how users interact with your product. That experience can be very valuable. Then there are surveys, interviews, and secondary sources of data. Secondary sources are when you get information from third parties like data aggregators, or from your existing competitors in the field.

Your research goals are to answer: Who are the target customers? Why do they or will they use your product? What are their motivations? What do they expect from your product? How do they currently solve the problems you are targeting to solve? And any questions you think are relevant to you and your product development. Ask open-ended questions of your interviewees. You’re trying to gain insights from them, to get them to open up to you, and potentially share ideas you didn’t know to look for.

A quote from Luke Wroblewski: “Stop looking at what other companies are doing. Start spending more time with existing/potential customers.”

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