Tuning Your Product for an Ecosystem of Users


“Take but degree away, untune that string, and hark, what discord follows!”

William Shakespeare

I’ve yet to work at a company where all of the users have the same desires, needs and use cases.

If anyone tries to tell you that their users are different, that their users are actually all the same, run.

Now.

As fast as you can.

In my experience, one of the trickier aspects of product design is understanding your ecosystem of users. At a startup, this can be a different kind of problem, because often you’re not only discovering your product, but also who you product serves. It’s an interesting balancing act.

At a more seasoned company, with established products and users, these are difficult waters to navigate, and even more troublesome if they haven’t been traversed historically. I’ve had to work through many of these problems recently, and the best picture I can use to describe the process is tuning a guitar.

With a guitar, you have 6 individual strings, each tuned to a different note. In standard tuning, from top string to bottom string the tuning of the notes would look like this:

E

A

D

g

b

e

Think of each string as your product, and the note as the goals of a user. When you “tune” the string to a particular note (or frequency), you pluck the string and watch a tuner move back and forth, determing where on the sound spectrum the frequency exists. You then turn the knob associated with that string in order to manipulate the frequency. Turn it one way, the pitch goes down. Turn it the opposite way and the pitch goes up. You pluck, watch, tweak and watch until you bring the string in line with the desired output. This is very much like iterative design. We release (pluck), watch (the tuner), and tweak (turn the knobs)until we bring the product into tune with our user.

So you do this with each string, plucking, watching and tweaking the whole time, until you have everything lined up in a precise system ready to make music.

All of this begins with an understanding of your goal (playing songs in a particular key), understanding the context of the tools at hand (your strings) and taking the time to make sure things are lined up according to detail (tweaking each string). It takes discipline and an interest in craftsmanship, but just sit back and listen to someone play a well-tuned guitar versus a nearly-tuned guitar. The differences are obvious. The same goes for our products. When we care deeply about all of our users and their goals, and we do the necessary work to understand their nuances, we can more clearly take action on the tweaks our product requires in order to improve the lives of the people using our products.