We’ve talked a lot about the importance of user feedback at so far, but the topic deserved it’s own blog post.

So you need to interact with your signups to validate your idea; ask them questions, talk to them about the actual problem they’re experiencing.  Gathering feedback is the best method to get direction for design and to know how well you’re solving a user’s problem, because it’s got a couple of key advantages.

  • It’s free, always a huge advantage
  • It’s quick (takes talking to 5 people or less)
  • You often get more than you ask for

However, it’s easy to get wrong.  You can’t just go up and ask “would you like an app which did x” – that question yields a lot of false positives, because it’s a yes/no question where someone’s feelings may get hurt.

Visionaries like Steve Jobs say things like “people don’t know what they want,” because when you ask someone what they want, you get what they envision as their ideal solution – not the actual ideal solution.  This means if you go right up to someone and ask “What product do you want that would solve your problem?” your answers are going to be next to useless.

Think of the traditional Buggy vs. Car example.  If Henry Ford asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said “a better horse.”  But we’d all agree we’re happier Ford made the car instead.

“Well gee, then what do I ask?”  Here are the questions you should be asking:

1.  What are you trying to get done? (Gather context)

Most of the time, someone’s initial answer isn’t going to be the answer that you’re looking for.  It will appear at first glance that it is, but sometimes what people think they want is based on a bunch of faulty assumptions that they want.  In order to get through all of this confusion, make sure to ask “Why?” several times to get to the root of the matter.

For an example, take a look at the following user interaction outlined below:

  • I want an app which lists a bunch of exercises by what they work out
  • Why?
  • Because I want to know what exercises will work out all parts of the body
  • Why?
  • Because I want to make a workout routine for myself
  • Why?
  • Because I want to get a good workout every day
  • Why?
  • Because I want to be healthy and in shape

The user in this case thought their problem was that an app categorizing exercises by body part didn’t exist, but their real goal was to be in good fitness and health.  There’s probably a simpler way for them to accomplish this goal than the process outlined above.  Now, instead of creating an app which catalogues exercise routines, you can create an app which creates a workout routine for the user based on the user’s current body and goals – without mucking about with the whole process.  That would make this user much happier, and isn’t what they thought they wanted.

You want a “something” that you can build an app around, and usually this isn’t the first answer someone’s provided.

This can also reveal where users problems may be created by lack of understanding or incorrect application, as opposed to the solution not actually existing.  Then, if you wanted to solve the problem, it would be by educating people on the solutions which actually exist.

2.    How do you currently do this? (Analyze workflow)

To solve your user’s problem better than they do, you must first understand how they solve their own problem.  Knowing the full extent of the user’s workflow puts you in their shoes, and gives you the information you need to do a better job solving their problems than them.

This can also help you understand how to simplify their solution; even though they might not necessarily have a problem, there will likely be parts of their workflow which are inefficient and unnecessary.  You should minimize those.  Then, you can focus on making the most important parts of the workflow better.

Lay this workflow out in a flowchart.  Flowcharts are perfect for understanding the users workflow, and one sketched out on paper as you’re interviewing the user should do the job quite nicely.

3.    What could be better about how you do this? (Find opportunities)

After you’ve asked the last two questions, you should have a pretty good idea of what is going on with your user, and should have a hypothesis for how you can fix their problem.  When you ask this question, you can verify your hypothesis; if you were warm, proceed.  If you’re cold, go back to start and try again.

 

Takeaways:

  • Ask what the user is trying to get done.
  • Ask how they’re currently getting it done.
  • Don’t just jump to asking “would you like this app?”  Or “What app would you want?”