How to better understand your audience during product design

Stepping into the shoes of your customer is the key to developing a successful product, argues UX professional Wojtek Kutyla.

Have you ever tried finding an app to suit your needs?

The digital market is an incredibly saturated one, with Google estimating there are approximately 2.2 million apps on the Play Store, and 2 million apps on Apple’s equivalent.

It’s fair to say that the competition is tough.

This is the paradox of choice; if we have too many things to choose from, we’re confused. We’re also confused and sometimes annoyed when we can’t use the thing we’ve chosen – it might be too complicated or simply not made for us.

Technology is very good at playing with our emotions. When interacting with it, our mood often goes from joy to fury (ever had wifi dying on you in the middle of a bank transaction?).

I believe that awareness of this is the key to avoiding failure when developing a product.

Make no mistake; even if it’s common sense, your only chance of avoiding fading away in the history of someone’s browser window is to answer their needs.

Doing it right

Wojtek speaking at CodeClan

When I started at CodeClan, I began teaching future developers how to engage in processes that would surface usable and well-designed software.

Coding on its own is not a massively difficult thing to learn. Meaningful production of code, on the other hand, is a very different thing.

Many applications and websites are made on the basis of nothing but dreams of glory. Unfortunately, this won’t cut it anymore. The days of cowboy-like coding and designing are over. Now research and logic are keys to making your product work.

So, what are the six things that you should take care of during development?

1. Understand your target group

Who are your users? You can say ‘It’s everyone’, but is my mum among them? It’s unlikely.

Are they old or young? How do they interact with technology — is it a part of their life or just an add-on? Are they on the move, or static? Is the sun shining on screens of their devices, or do they need to be able to use them whilst in the middle of Storm Doris? Are they rich or poor? Educated or not? The list goes on.

The more you learn, the more you discover about their behaviour. The method for obtaining this insight is going through existing market research and supporting it with your observation.

2. Identify exact user needs

Planning for UX

What do your really users want? Don’t pretend you know for certain. Nobody does, unless they’re building a product for themselves.

After you’ve identified your target group, ask its representatives about their expectations and needs. Observe them. Perhaps there’s something that they can’t get from currently available solutions?

Even if yours is the first of its kind, don’t make features blindly. Identify user needs and try marrying them up with needs of your organisation. It’ll only work if these two types meed in the middle.

3. Understand your value proposition

What’s unique about your product? What is it that you’re selling — a service or an emotion? Are there any other products on the market that are doing the same thing?

Once you reach an understanding on what it is that makes your offer unique, check whether there is a true demand for it. You might overestimate if you don’t. Be prepared for making quick alterations to your business model if it turns out users require a different approach.

4. Test your design and code with real people

Whatever you produce, test it. If you can’t afford to run proper user testing of functionality and concepts, do it with your friends (but prioritise externally recruited participants over these, for they won’t be biased).

Show them your mockups or paper prototypes and ask: how does this come across to you? Try doing it in a non-leading way, so they can tell you what needs improving instead of giving you an automatic, hidden praise.

5. Build for inclusivity

Our population is ageing. We’re getting more familiar with technology but this has its darker side; we’re getting more obese, less agile, and our eyesight is getting worse.

Stress that we’re going through is the source of many social and mental problems. Whatever your unique product does, it has to be prepared for assistive technologies of the future.

Do care about accessibility and take inclusive design seriously. Don’t alienate anyone — it’s not only morally right, but will make your products more friendly.

6. Don’t ignore research

Lean UX methodology (quick bursts of feature development, testing and iteration) arrived at the scene of software development like a storm.

We’re now talking of anticipatory design — predicting user behaviour and satisfying it prior to action taking place (i.e. Google Maps showing us how long will it take to get to work just when we’re ready to leave the house). Internet of things and virtual reality are still buzzwords. We’re getting here, and our future is now more exciting than ever.

There’s one thing we need to remember: as the speed of change increases, we have less time to make mistakes. This is why research in software production is more important than ever.

Final thoughts

The creation of great experiences requires a mindful approach. The measure of your success lies in successful adaptation and emotional reaction of your users.

If you work hard, they won’t have to — they will fall in love with your product.

After all, who would like to be sweating over that paradox of choice?

Get to grips with UX

Find out more about CodeClan’s User Experience Design (UX) Fundamentals course.


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