You’re not the user — Week 2

This week has been all about user research and design thinking. It’s been illuminating for me. Not because I don’t know the value of user feedback but because I haven’t been acting like I do.

I recently worked with a team of designers who always talked about the importance of user centred design. The user must always be the focus of all your design solutions. Even though I intuitively understood that to begin with, their thinking helped my thinking to evolve. Their mantra of user feedback became my internal mantra. It came to seem so obvious.

So when our guest instructor on UX design, Mandy, pointed out “you are not the user”, I nodded sagely to myself. That’s right, I thought. You are not the user. I know that.

And then we got out of the building to do an exercise about improving the public transit experience in SF. We observed and interviewed to find the pain points. We formed theories about what wasn’t working. We formed more theories about what would work better. And even though we kept looking for users to validate these theories, I kept answering the assumptions myself by arriving at conclusions which made sense to me. Or worse still, I arrived at conclusions without even realising that I was answering my own assumptions.

I was thinking that I am not the user, but I was acting like I was the user. And running the risk that I would unconsciously squeeze out other users to become not just the user, but the only user.

It also works the other way. I often found myself assuming that my solution to a problem was the most obvious solution and therefore perhaps not a worthy solution. When the next three solutions proposed by my classmates were nothing like my solution, I realised I was wrong. Sometimes it is nice to be wrong. In fact, being wrong is often the first step to eventually being right, another lesson we are learning each and every week.

Thinking and acting are not the same thing. Sometimes it’s easy to conflate the two. Nobody, however, wants to employ a Product Manager because of what they think. They want to employ them because of what they do.

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