Why is it important to know your users?

02.01.2014

You are not your users. You definitely know your products and services inside and out and that is the main thing that sets you apart from them. You've seen every sketch, diagram, prototype and have been hands on from the beginning. You have insights that no one else has and this is what's going to make you successful if you know your users and design for their needs.

Take the time to understand your users.

Understanding your users will help you make objective decisions based on their needs and not a personal preference. It allows you to focus time and resources on known specifics versus hopeful guesses.

Knowing the details of your users' personalities, assumptions and previous experiences can help reveal what they actually need instead of accepting what they say they want. Asking users what they want is an important step in getting to know them, but their answers should not be taken at face value and should be carefully analyzed to understand the real reason they answered the way they did.

"If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'Faster Horses'"—Henry Ford

How do I really get to know my users?

There are a lot of user research methods that can help you learn about users and their behaviors. These techniques should be done as early in the creation process as possible. In our design process these items happen in the very first phase of every project which we call discovery. Here are a few of the main techniques for user research:

User interviews - asking users carefully thought out questions allow you to steer the conversation to ensure you get the data you need while helping you understand their perceptions, attitudes and experiences.

Field studies - observing users in the context of their environment allows you to directly see how they interact with items and react to specific situations as naturally as possible. It also allows you to adjust your questions and possibly see problems from different angles.

Surveys - while not typically as insightful as user interviews, surveys allow you to get feedback from a much large number of people and are very good as a first step for validating hypothesis or gathering initial data for user personas.

Workshops - typically done in small groups and include hands-on activities that allow you to identify common patterns between users.

Usability testing - a technique used to evaluate a website, product or service by having users perform specific tests with prototypes. These tests help you find potential usability issues as well as understand how real users will use your system.

Knowing your users on more than a hypothetical level is key. When you have research and knowledge of your users behind your designs you're more likely to create something people want to use and can't live without.