Finding Your Own Secret Sauce

Last time I wrote, I said I would tell you how to find your own secret sauce. Here’s what I recommend:

User testing.

For those not familiar with the phrase, it basically means handing whatever it is you have been working on over to the people who are actually going to use it, and study how they use it.

There are several things to consider when user testing:

  • Are they using your product the way you expected them to?
  • How specifically are they using your product? If it is software, how specifically are they interacting with it? Do they use keyboard shortcuts? Do they use the mouse? Are they aware of particular features?
  • Are there features that don’t work as expected? Are they expecting features that aren’t there?

Now before you go all out and crazy with user testing, selecting proper testers can be important. You should attempt to get as close to your target market as possible. If you are writing software for the elderly, try it out on your grandparents. Try it out on your grandparent’s friends. Sometimes the best testers are the ones that you wouldn’t expect.

At a previous job, we came across a rather strange bug that none of the QA or development teams were able to replicate. (This certainly wasn’t abnormal, and isn’t abnormal, but given the seriousness of the bug it did require some investigation). Despite following the exact steps to reproduce the bug, as directed in an email, no one was able to reproduce it. Eventually someone actually sat down and watched the user recreate the bug. What happened is that the user was using the keyboard to navigate a from, rather than a mouse, like everyone else had been doing. This wasn’t made apparent until someone was actually watching what the user was doing. (Why the bug happened is a whole other can of worms).

There is something to be said about the value of actually seeing people use your product. To take one step further than that, it’s even more of a challenge to figure out what exactly what is best for the user. Often an end-user will say something like “I need a button here to do this”. What they really might need is something completely different, which would negate the need for a button in the first place. Remember the wise words of Henry Ford:

“If I asked my customer what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.”

Part of your ‘secret sauce’ is figuring out how your users will use your product. The other part of the secret sauce is figuring out what your product should do. Does it fulfill a basic need? Is it a response to a question? Does it make someone’s job easier? How specifically will it do what it is supposed to do? Will people be able to figure out how to use it? How will you know when it is working as expected?

Those are just a few things to think about when working with software, or really any other sort of product design.


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