Why We Should Design For Humans, Not Users

People’s lives aren’t static, so why are their user experiences?

Last year, I wrote about my relationship with the Nike Training App. The app is my personal trainer, providing me with all the guidance and support I need for my daily workouts. It practically eliminated my need for a human trainer or a gym, and with the personal touch you expect from real-life relationships. We had a healthy, consistent relationship.

This summer, I collided with an opponent while playing soccer and pop! tore my ACL and my medial meniscus. After a recent surgery and months of physical therapy ahead, my daily Nike Training Club workouts are on pause. Just like my ligament, my relationship with Nike is (temporarily) severed.

Unlike the people in my life, the app has no way of being there for me during this time—let alone knowing what happened in the first place. To the algorithm, I look like any other user that dropped off.

I wish more than anything that the app could cheer me on through my recovery the same ways it does through my workouts. What if there was a stretching section for injured athletes? What if it connected me to others recovering from the same injury?

After my injury, I asked, “How might brands design experiences that ebb and flow with people’s lives?”

How can a company or brand be there for people when they need a break? An athletic company for injured athletes is one scenario, and there are countless others: airlines when people can’t travel, utilities providers when people go on long vacations, and banks when people are experiencing financial hardship, to name a few. And how about when people experience a significant change in life altogether, like marriages, new jobs, births, or moves?

The benefit for a business is that by maintaining an ongoing relationship even during downtime or shifts, it grows and changes with its customers, rather than driving them away.

3 ways that business can create on-going relationships:

  1. Maintain a continuous conversation

There is no shortage of instagram accounts for pet-lovers. One of them is Jess Rona Grooming. The account is frequently updated with photos and videos of cute client dogs getting primped. Its 111K followers get to enjoy entertaining content without owing anything in return. But they give something back regardless: Each photo receives thousands of likes and comments that tag other people. While this LA-based dog groomer might not currently have over 100K customers, it has a relationship with fans worldwide who act as amplifiers for the company. And for people like me—previous dog owners with plans to get a dog again soon—Jess Rona Grooming will certainly be on the shortlist.

2. Enable lower-risk trials

As an outdoor outfitters, Alite Designs recognizes that the high cost of gear is enough to deter people from getting outdoors. Someone like me who only camps once or twice a year isn’t going to want to spend hundreds of dollars on a tent. I’d rather not camp at all. To lower the barrier for infrequent or non-campers, Alite has built a “lending library” where people can reserve and rent gear for an entire weekend for free. This encourages people who might otherwise never be a customer to trial their gear, and in the best cases, to become more avid campers who are loyal to the brand.

3. Build companions to your main offering

Businesses or services that are seasonally relevant have an opportunity to supplement their offering with off-season tools. Providing small benefits all-year-round increases the likelihood that customers will remain loyal year after year, despite new entrants. For example, TurboTax releases an annual product that simplifies the process of filing taxes. For the interim periods, the company offers apps like ItsDeductible Donation Tracker, an app that tracks charitable donation tax deductions. Come tax time, customers can export this data into TurboTax, making for an integrated experience. By strengthening its presence in customers’ lives, the brand strengthens its relationship with customers.

Today, most brands create end-to-end experiences that assume their users have consistent lives.

For example, building a great end-to-end experience for finding and completing one daily workout or selecting and purchasing the right pair of shoes for one occasion. This is a good start, but the problem is that we as humans don’t lead lives of repeatable moments. Each day our behaviors and emotions are different, sometimes predictably, and sometimes unpredictably so. And our lives change over the weeks, months, and years. An app experience that meets our needs one day may be completely off the next.

When designing products and services, it’s important to remember that people are not just users of your offering. Life happens — and it impacts the way that your “users” engage with your brand. Consider how you might engage with people when their lives change.

My experience with the Nike app is good because I can behave in the one specific way it expects most of the time. But it would be even better if it could flex to meet my changing needs all of the time. Until then, I’ll plan to get the app back up and running on as soon as I am.