Earlier this year I had a client who hired me to redesign the first step in their 3-step process. The page was getting loads of customer complaints and the last three iterations on the design hadn’t helped.
As always, I started the project by interviewing key stakeholders: the product manager, the product owner, the head of development, the CTO, the head of customer insights, the head of UX, and a few sales people. Each person gave me their perspective on the problem, re-articulated the goals for the page, and offered a few of their best guess solutions.
It quickly became apparent that there was a lot of contention around one field in particular that had survived all the previous redesigns: a drop-down that acted as a filter for the content displayed in step 2. It had a vague label, contained options that were apples and oranges, not all options related to the label, and for several customer segments there were no options that applied. There seemed to be some enthusiasm from the team around renaming, moving or splitting the field into two to be clearer and more relevant, but for some reason, no changes had been made. I needed to get to the bottom of it.
In my interview with the product owner — who ultimately has the final say on what goes in the product and what stays out — I came to learn that he actually uses the product for one of his extracurricular activities. As I always do, I asked him which elements on the page worked well and should be maintained in my redesign. His response: the notorious drop-down.
I was perplexed. How could the product owner not know how much his team loathed this component? Was he out of touch or did he know something they didn’t?
So I pressed on: “What is the greatest benefit of this drop-down for the user?” I could hardly believe what I heard.
“Well, when I use it for my [extracurricular activity], I select [so and so] from the drop-down and get exactly what I need on the next page.”
“How many other people who [do this extracurricular activity] select [so and so] to find that?”
“Oh I don’t know, but they should.”
Not only did he have no data, quantitative or qualitative, he demonstrated no understanding of the concept of designing for your customers’ needs, not your own. That aside, he was being an impediment to his team who was trying to experiment in order to fix a persistent problem.
It’s something I’ve seen all too often. This is one example, but I can think of several others that have gone down almost exactly the same way.
Being the one person on the team who uses the product as a customer — regardless of your role — gives you the license to act as the proxy for the customer. Any disagreement that arises can be shut down by a “When I…” statement because no one else can respond with a “Oh yeah, well when I…” The team becomes forced to make a choice between believing the person and allowing them to make the decision that benefits himself, or changing the design and removing functionality that they know he uses. Who wants to be stuck in that no-win situation?
There are two lessons here: (1) Listen to yourself closely and recognize when you’re the person who reasons with a “When I…” statement and commit to being more objective; and (2) Don’t allow anyone else on the team be the one person who’s a customer of your product. You need to be a customer of your product, too. Not only to ward off the subjective decision making that is a poison to your process and to your team, but also to help build empathy with your customers while gathering feedback and conducting research. Having been where they’ve been will enable you to better identify with their needs. The better you can understand and express the problems your customers are facing, the more prepared you’ll be to use hard data as a shield against the “When I…” sword.
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