Everything I do at work is guided by a quote that for me has become an axiom. The quote goes like this:

“Want your users to fall in love with your product? Fall in love with your users.” – Dana Chisnell

And as simple as it seems, it’s something I noticed that is forgotten in every project I participate in. I would like to break this down with an analogy which I think will be useful to any entrepreneur, designer, PM, or BA. Actually, whatever your role in creating a product may be, this could help stir up a few ideas for your next project.

There’s No Such Thing as a “Userless” Product

Let me ask you this. What good reason do you have when designing a product NOT to rely upon your users or potential users? Well for me, I can’t think of a single circumstance where you’d ignore your users, no matter where you’re coming from. And even if you try to convince me otherwise, I will never approve the idea of a project brainstormed and designed without falling back on the users.

It might help to look at this through a different lens to explain why.

Suppose you are in a relationship and your partner’s birthday is coming. Do you go and buy something that you think YOU will like or buy something that THEY will like? If you buy something that YOU think the other person is going to like, then let me warn you that sometimes this is a good strategy but more often, it all goes wrong. Why?

Because you are basing the decision on what YOU believe. The perfect gift will be achieved by having listened to your partner over time and being attentive to their needs.

Going back to product design, it’s the same thing. You can develop a product imagining what users want/need or you can make the effort to know them, fall in love with them, and learn every need they have.

Just Like in a Personal Relationship, Listening is Key

Continuing with the analogy, I will stress it a bit more and go even further…

What happens when your partner is not heard? When do you feel that you are not paying attention? What happens when the things you do clearly show that you don’t understand or notice the other person?

I’ll tell you. Maybe a day will come when that other guy/woman who has always been lurking around behind the scenes in the relationship will come forward. They’ve been waiting for our mistake and now it’s time to make their move. They’ll see your shortcomings and take the opportunity to start meeting the needs of our partner in a better way (please do not take MY words so literally, it’s just a funny analogy to help you understand the importance of falling in love and listening to users).

For me, when that happens in a product, it is when users begin to leave our product aside to go with the competition. Obviously, that is the last thing we want.

Case in Point: Could You Have Predicted THIS User…?

All this came to mind for a simple reason. A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to travel to conduct contextual interviews with users … and to save words I will supply you with an image of the context of work use of these people.

Seeing a photo like this, where Hector (the user) is in a context that even the best of imaginations could never reproduce in such detail, do you think you can design a product for this person sitting in front of the computer?

Without knowing Hector, could you have ever dedicated enough ears and eyes to knowing EVERY need that is presented in his day-to-day life, plus every frustration he encounters? Could you have known about any positive results that came about because of your work on the product? Probably not. If you can develop a product without even a hint of data and feedback from its users, you are the closest thing to Nostradamus I’ve ever seen, haha.

Hector performing his daily tasks with the application

The Results of “Falling in Love” With Hector

Once back in the office and making design decisions AFTER “falling in love” with the users’ everything changed. I was now thinking of a real person whose needs I understood. Hector was at the forefront of my mind whenever I made design decisions, which is how it should be. In fact, every decision should be made with the user in mind and decisions should stop being based on what one believes.

Fortunately, my visit with Hector was perfectly timed. After performing this type of research technique on location, it was time to design a very important feature of the application. As it so happened, the feature was VERY well received by users and above all, they felt heard.

How to Fall in Love With the Users

To conclude, I do not mean that one has to travel and spend a whole week with users in order to fall in love with them. Designers can also…

  • Interview the users remotely
  • Ask support people
  • Talk with stakeholders to show the importance of knowing them
  • And more

And why not zoom out and use this analogy as an example for bigger things? The value of good UX isn’t limited to product design. The closer we bring the field and its understanding to everyone, the better they will be at understanding the value of creating user-based experiences.

I try, from project to project, to open my mind and heart to fall in love with the users. Among other benefits which aren’t relevant here, this allows me to leave aside what I think they need and focus on what they really need.

I hope this article has got some smiles out of you and perhaps even sparked some good ideas. My advice is to take care of your users as you would take care of the people you love. We are people making products for other people. The tools (paper, computer, sticky notes, or whatever) are only the means. Our goal is people and will always be.

I am always open to discussing ideas openly. You can follow me on Twitter or contact me directly through the Making Sense contact form. Let’s Connect!