Why Assumptions Kill Your Product

In Mobile Design, Mobile Strategy, User Research by Ryan Pursel

We see companies and startups spring up everyday proclaiming they have the newest and best solution for our daily needs. But do we really need it? Does this solve a pre-existing problem or create a new one?

We’re often distracted by the glitz and glamor that comes with good design. Iron Man-esque interfaces and animations that wow the user masks the fact that this app serves no better purpose than the free one pre-installed on our devices. When a product is quickly released with little or no research and based on assumptions of its target market, the result can be the complete opposite of the intended reaction. If research isn’t optimally utilized in the beginning phases, discovering usability issues or problems could prove costly when it could have been addressed during earlier development stages.

User Assumptions Killed the Facebook Phone

A great example of this is the Facebook phone. Facebook at the time had over 800 million users, but failed to implement UX research in the initial phases. After the functionality and major parts of the design were defined, they decided to do the research by using their employees as users. The biggest parts of the product were based on assumptions that their user base would need this product. Business needs took precedence over the needs of users and consequently privacy took a back seat. What Facebook failed to realize is that the users never saw a need for such a device and that the features being offered were already encompassed by apps available for the iPhone or cheaper Android devices.

Assumptions Can Kill Creativity and Design

Therefore, what little information you do possess about the market can not validate your solution. For example, you can assume that warehouse workers need a faster way of locating shipments for delivery so you design an app for the iPad. The technology would be nice, but what one may fail to notice is that everyone is required to wear safety equipment — that meaning gloves. These gloves are not only bulky and provide a larger imprint for tapping, but they aren’t even compatible with the iPad screens. Needless to say, the company would have to go out and buy more expensive or customized gloves for all employees on top of paying for your design solution. Justifying the costs for such a change to a small company might not seem too costly, but to a large corporation that’s more than just a pretty penny.

Assumptions can kill creativity and the overall design. These “ah ha!” moments are missed when you have a problem visualized and already have a solution. When you conduct user research, all too often you find the problems you had drawn up in your head are not needs your users have. When you discover latent needs, you come upon problems most experts in their fields overlook. Because they’re so close to their work, they don’t have that outside looking in perspective that we have when we consult them. This is where the gears start turning and solutions that would have never come to light can now come to fruition.

Even a useful application can have a complex series of steps or load times to get anything done in a time efficient manner. To the user, it could prove annoying and frustrating to just accomplish a simple task. The design should be an enhancement to a user’s routine rather than a setback. The product should empower the user, giving a sense of satisfaction when using the application. Good design UX guided by the power of user research will ultimately lead to a successful product created by facts and not assumptions.
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