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What users really want

January 10, 2011

Last time I talked about ways to think about who your users actually are, and now we know who they are, we can think about what they want from our service.

You might think it'd be easier to just ask them - but this turns out almost always to be less than useful. For instance, users may want something to work a particular way "because that's the way I work", when most people work a different way. Alternatively, if you ask 'how' a new product might work, users will normally suggest ways that exist in other products, which may prevent you from building something easier to use, or with a unique selling point.

So, what is to be done ?

One of the things we do is to not think about the 'how' until much, much later in the process; instead we focus on the goals the users have. For instance, rather than asking "how will this web site show a users purchase history" (because 'everyone' wants to see that), we think about what the users end goals would be (such as "has my order been sent"). Because we've used persona's to understand our users, we can quickly understand their goals and brainstorm scenarios around them.

Scenarios should assume the product is magic, because this is about what users want, not what there is time or resource to deliver (though this will still become important later). For instance, in an address book it may be difficult to combine information about a contact's location with their shared calender, but if a persona would need this to accomplish a goal (such as 'see if my sales people made their meetings on time') , you should assume it's easy to do.

This Goal Directed Design can be a very subtle change in mindset, but it has many benefits.

GDD leads to systems that are focused on what their users want to get done, not the way the developers implemented them. For instance, a sound editing program might talk about 'save song' rather than 'save file' - who wants to think about file systems, c colon and all, when you are creating music ? In fact, why should a musician have to worry about saving their work at all ?

GDD leads to designs that are easier for users to get started with because they closely match the users mental model of their world. Rather than a dialogue box for every feature of the system, they normally end up with a more friendly appearance that supports the users main goals directly, without having to 'jump through hoops' of several different menus or copy and paste between different parts.

All this means that users will be able to use it more efficiently, with less mental effort (often called 'excise', as it's a tax on achieving a goal). This will encourage them to use it again, and aid them in moving from novice to 'perpetual intermediary'.

Posted by Tom Chiverton

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