How to get the right insights from the right users to have successful products
Design is increasingly an aspect of product management, not just product teams. More of us are familiar with user experience and its impact on design, but where does design really begin? Every true user experience expert I have talked with about this has the same answer and that’s with the user of the product or the person with the problem that we wish to solve with a product.
How we actually get insights from users can be the difference between product success and failure. To explore the right way to get insights, I talked with Brian Baker at the First User Group, which is a strategic innovation firm providing business strategy and cutting-edge product design in digital, consumer electronics, and consumer packaged goods. He has delivered over 100 products to brands we would all recognize and it is likely we have encountered one or more of his products.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
- [6:05] When you say that the most important aspect of product design and development is people, who are you talking about? The end customer or user of the product. We want to study the behavior and emotions of the end customer. With the correct information about them, we are no longer making guesses about what they want. We know what they want. This methodology is essentially called design thinking.
- [8:30] How do we know what our customers want without guessing? First I’ll tell you what not to do. You can look up information using the internet, which is cheap. What is not cheap is creating a product people will not buy. Less cheap but also with a lower probability of success is the use of focus groups, surveys, and customer feedback tools. One problem with these instruments is that they only attract a very small segment of your customers that may not be representative of your ideal customer. Less than 1/10th of one percent of customers respond to these instruments. What you should do is use an anthropological approach to first observe people and then talk to them about your observations. We found that to be most valuable. We try to identify patterns during the observations of people’s behavior and then interact with them to learn more.
- [14:22] What does an observation study look like? As an example, we helped a backpack manufacturer design a new backpack for students. We observed college students using their backpacks. We went to the campus of a university and watched how students interacted with their backpacks. I sat against a tree with a pad of paper writing notes of what I observed. Anyone would have thought I was sketching, but I was actually recording observations as fast as possible. For example, “Woman sets backpack on the ground, woman has to tip backpack up to get in the front pocket.” Soon you start to identify similarities in the observations.
- [17:14] What were some of the design changes made from backpack study? The weight of a loaded backpack and how students swing a backpack on resulted in extra stitching in places to reinforce the design, which reduced warranty issues. Also we found that men prefer a backpack with more nooks and crannies for storing specific items compared to women who prefer a larger main compartment. The manufacturer is now finding more success designing backpacks specifically for women or men versus a single design for both genders.
- [21:14] How can a product manager conduct an observation study? Get a nice notebook to write notes in. Taking notes digitally does not work – you need to write notes. Go someplace where you can observe your end customer using your product, a competitor’s product, or dealing with a problem. Sit and write notes as fast as you can of what you observe. You don’t have to interact with the end customer at all – the observations only will provide new insights.
- [23:51] What is the issue with biasing your results? The reason to start with observations of your end customer’s behavior is to minimize bias. You are not asking the customer for their opinion of your idea. Directly asking such questions leads to biased results because few people want to say your idea stinks when it really does. Observations of behavior minimizes bias.
- [25:48] What do you do after noting your observations? We transcribe our notes and then look for patterns throughout the observations. From the patterns we write questions. We spend time considering the right questions and the right language to use. Then the questions can be used for conducting interviews with similar end customers. I have gone to coffee shops where I would expect the end customers to be (such as near the university where we observed backpacks in use) and put a sign on my table that says “$5, 5 minutes.” People are very willing to answer questions when they have a small incentive and know the time commitment is small. The questions help us uncover the emotional components that are related to their use of the product. That is the real benefit of design thinking – to identify the customer emotions involved in the purchase and use of a product.
- See Brian’s work at First User Group
“Design must reflect the practical and aesthetic in business… but above all, good design must primarily serve people.” – Tom Watson
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.