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Post 33: The Oxygen of Good Design

Last night I was reminded of just how important customer research is when you’re developing a new product.

At a small design industry event in town I showed a bunch of people our product and asked questions about how they use other products like LinkedIn and Behance.

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As a two person team, we have assumptions about pain points people have and we think we can solve them. But nothing is more energising to a team than hearing your assumptions come out of the mouths of your customers.

One person gave us the feedback above when I asked her how she used LinkedIn.

While this kind of feedback doesn’t point to a specific solution, it does prove that there is at least some kind of pain point here and in the early days of product development, its this kind of qualitative feedback than helps point you in the right direction.

 

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Speaking to at least 5 customers each week is a goal I’ve tried to hit over the past 3 months. People love talking about things that piss them off about products & services, and if you listen carefully you can learn about where you should be focusing your time and energy.

Listening to Seb tell me about how he found it difficult to add that he’d written a couple of articles to his LinkedIn profile gave us the idea add a feature that lets people include things like articles, presentations etc. on their profiles.

“But talking to customers takes up valuable design time!”
Getting up from your desk to have a coffee with someone on the other side of town, or driving out to a bar after work is a pain. It takes at least 90mins each time and it’s easy to say “I could be using that time designing”. Yes you could, but you could also be designing something that no-one wants. This is the counterintuitive nature of customer research. I’ve never spoken to a customer about a design problem and walked away with nothing. In 100% of cases I’ve learned something I didn’t know before, or found an important problem with my design. In the end, taking the time to talk to real customers ends up saving you a lot of time.

 

Team Moral & Motivation
I’ve worked in teams where they feel like the thing they’re working on isn’t actually something the customer wants. And in my experience, few things kill company moral quicker. Putting a team to work on a real customer problem is energising and focusing. A great way to discover real customer problems is to talk to real customers. Sounds simple, but few people do it or do it enough.

The guys at Google Ventures echoed something similar in a recent article on their blog where they dive into more detail than I have here and explore some of the common excuses people give for avoiding customer research.

Maybe its the way we are educated, or maybe its just uncomfortable, but most designers I know would rather sit behind their 27′ iMac clicking and sketching away than get up from behind their desk and go and speak to the people they are trying to solve a problem for.

More than anything else, I’ve found that real customer feedback is the oxygen that fuels good design solutions.

 

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