The story of 100 people
How would you feel like meeting 100 of your users in the same place?
How would they react when knowing that you are part of their great or terrible past experiences? How would you tell someone that they are statistically insignificant, in person? You most likely won’t. Listening to them, your mind would probably be blown away by all the unexpected ways in which they use the product.
This is a short story about that. It’s illustrating people’s diversity often ignored in hasty, assumptive one-fits-all designs.
Let’s imagine you just started working on a product used by exactly 100 people. Normally, you would begin with some thorough desk research, but there isn’t much time.
In fact, there is so little time, that you also skip the usual field trip and interviews, mostly relying on assumptions and your stakeholders to understand your users’ problems.
Unfortunately, the usual stages of empathy, definition and even ideation are swiftly replaced with early design lock-down meetings, non-iterative versions and future promises.
One by one, users and behaviours are excluded from the product creation process, without anybody really noticing until it is actually launched. At that point, they will be the ones pushing away your product. I may be painting an exaggerated grim picture, but I bet parts of this sounds familiar.
The first people excluded come up quite soon, right after discussing initial flows and interactions. You and the team figured out that the flow might break if someone has multiple accounts for example, or forget all their recovery options.
These first 4 people are considered as edge cases. They want to do something specifically peculiar that would place them among the 5% of the population. They may do it willingly, or just find themselves in those circumstances at a point in time.
Their behaviour is often ignored and only considered in a future iteration, the one that has it all. Unfortunately, this makes the product simply unusable for them. Don’t worry though, you’ll never hear about them again, they are statistically insignificant to your company. Until you actually meet one and listen to their painful experience.
So, you’re left with 96.
I’ll never forget the $25 spent for at the check-in counter as a student, because I couldn’t check in beforehand on my missing smartphone and laptop.
8 people are instantly skipping those ‘cool’ onboarding screens. Sooner or later you will need to create some sort of experience to explain new features, or an entirely new service.
However, simply copying others by adding illustrations with text in a carousel, no matter how well animated, might not always be enough. If your product ‘suffered’ major changes and relies on people having an overview of those, it should become more than just a one time display of information— learning doesn’t work like that.
People may just want to finish a task right away, or maybe they’re usually doing other things while using your app, or they may have a general aversion to the standard text-image combination seen all over the place.
In any case, if the onboarding experience does not provide any reason to go through, it will be instantly skipped causing some to get frustrated enough when confronted with changes, dropping your product altogether. Then you’re left with 88.
6 people are not using the few devices you’ve designed for. Maybe some still enjoy their old cracked phones that they are emotionally attached to. Others might dislike the large size of most new ones, or they just can’t afford them yet.
Having the right data set up to track device type is key in this case, otherwise you might create a great deal of frustration among your users, some of which will eventually switch to your competitors. You’re now left with 82.
I still feel terrible remembering meeting an old lady using an iPhone 5, struggling with my designs.
12 people did not enable the permissions the entire experience is depending on. Since I’m currently working quite a lot with maps, I’m specifically referring to location tracking. It’s highly inaccurate, almost naive to believe that only a few people will turn location permission off, even when a map is in the center of their experience.
Perhaps some are using the product to look around, or they are tired of inaccurate ‘smart’ notifications supposedly based on their position. Others could simply be uncomfortable sharing that data with you.
Regardless of their reason, the design must consider their free choice. Ignoring this will not only deem the product useless, it could make them feel bad for choosing to not accept your terms. Then they were 70.
Third one is a tinfoil hat.
Another 12 people had different expectations. Most people will use your solution to actually do something in the real world. However, if the process starts by assuming what those expectations are and continues with ‘me as a user’, you risk alienating a great amount of users.
It doesn’t matter how sleek your design is, if it only provides half of what they expected. Maybe some people don’t care about the special welcome screen you created for them, as organic users and wish to simply get on with it.
Others might not care about the latest minimalist trends you followed and want a clear description of what they’re looking at.
Some expected to be done within a few minutes, but somehow ended up reading errors and resetting their settings several times.You know what happens when disappointments pile up. You’re left with 58.
We added a hole to the shovel, to make it more holistic | What if libraries would sort books by size — take that for an expectation
7 people see your product differently. Consciously or not, in the process of working without proper research, accessibility is often reduced to contrasts and font sizes.
If a product, especially in the consumer field, is not even considering adapting to screen readers, speech recognition, magnifiers, etc., it instantly blocks possible experiences for no good reason.
So, don’t rely on tiny percentile changes in colour values, be bold, have a look in the physical world if needed, see how people adapted to that and use those values, if relevant.
Otherwise, some people will not even try your product, or worse, they might just give it a try only to be disappointed by yet another company. 51 left.
I always wondered if people had a difficult time during medieval battles…
Eventually you get a bit of time and some budget to create a survey.
Unfortunately, everyone in the company wants to be part of it now and you end up with a weird mix of leading and open ended questions. In the end, 30 people responded positively, but 12 of them stopped using your product anyway.
Maybe a few answered it during a good day, while some were just looking for a way to express themselves as critics. Some just enjoy spreading those little review stars across the Internet, others are very polite.
The point is that a single survey is the equivalent of peeking through the keyhole.
You will definitely get a glimpse of what’s going on inside, but never the full picture. If you drive the design based on single data instances, you might miss people’s real opinion about your product. Don’t be surprised if they don’t all follow through and stop using it at some point.
Now, there are 39 left.
5 people don’t fit your personas at all. These crazy people regularly take a few days and go hiking in the mountains, skipping the weekly product change notifications. What young social media active millennial entrepreneur would ever do that? Because of them, there are now 34 left.
8 people are using the product a bit differently than you imagined. The lack of findings related to people’s behaviours is really getting back at you now. If context is not considered, screens risk to be usable only in their birthplace, on paper or in a design software.
Imagine that some people might be constantly using the product under high brightness, while driving (I meant using the phone while being safely parked, like we all do), or even while using tools or substances in work environments.
They just threw the phone away and you’re left with 26.
26 people have a higher chance of following those linear flows, who are willing to put more effort and ignore the illogical errors, who luckily fit in the ‘me as a user’ expression, eventually use your product. Until they turn into one of the above.
Each number above is relatively small, but they add up quickly. They don’t even have to represent different people, they can simply be different behaviours of the same individual, in time.
It simply shows that designing a single solution for all is just ridiculous and shouldn’t be encouraged for the sake of money and time. We should aim at being inclusive through the solutions we create, this approach does the opposite.
The resulted product will only be a reflection of your team’s imagination of who people are, instead of considering real individuals, their pains and goals.
Think about the idea of meeting 100 of your users again. Talk to all of them, then ask the ones you never even considered in your process to leave. How many are left?