Be the owner, not the user

Common mistakes made at start-ups when confusing ourselves with our clients

User testing at Mad Men

I get really excited every time I meet creative designers with great ideas and projects at the final stage, just one step away from the big day. They are about to launch their project and hope people will enjoy their product or service.

Yet many of our colleagues skip a previous step that is critical to the success of their project. They don’t ask their potential users their opinions about it, forgetting every user isn’t a clone of you, even when your profile can be part of your target. And even when the direction has been properly defined from the beginning, the hours that we dedicate to work on it every day can make us fussy and out of touch. Then our point of view is not as reliable as the opinion of a person who has never heard about our service, but who’d use it.

As the owner of a project, you should be proud of what you offer. You can (and you must) love your logo, your website or your app. Even the way every single part of the final design looks great in your laptop’s screen. However, you are not creating a product for yourself but to solve someone else’s need and you won’t be able to trust your perspective fully unless you get feedback from these (real) people. Once at this final stage, stop for a moment, and take some time to:

1. Review your target. Not just the demographic profile (age, gender or earnings). But also do a psychographic analysis: research the music they might listen to, blogs they’d follow, websites they visit and apps they probably like. Did any of these patterns change since the initial idea you had of who your potential clients were?

2. Get a small group of people -friends included- and give them basic instructions before the testing exercise. Let them familiarize with your service or product.

3. Ask them about their experience but invite them to tell you freely other aspects they’d like to highlight — “There are no wrong answers”, as Joan Holloway would say in Mad Men (see clip below). And pay a lot of attention to what they have to say.

Beyond the importance of using tools for your market analysis and with no intention to be a real User Test, this kind of Guerrilla techniques which you can try with friends or random people can give us a quick review of the preconceived ideas we had. And, most important, it helps us to:

  • Realize that our potential clients don’t actually pay that much attention to these small details which are always swirling around our heads because we cannot let them go “unpolished”.
  • Improve the current version and get fresh ideas to be implemented in future updates of our project.

Just as a curiosity: take a look at the lipstick User Testing exercise in Mad Men. (Yes, these are actually retro techniques).

See the clip here in YouTube

Lipstick user testing

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