Learning from Your Users

View Kelly’s presentation at the Front Porch 2015 conference

Building something people can use is one thing. Building something they appreciate is, unfortunately, something different.

You work hard and feel like users aren’t getting it. But have you tried “getting” them first? Understanding what users want from your software and how they’re using it can make the difference between a functional product that people grudgingly fumble through and something they love to interact with. Clear up misunderstandings with an ethnographic approach to learning from your users.

Below are my five top tips for bringing ethnography – or any qualitative research – into your projects:

1. There are a lot of misunderstandings out there. Avoid jumping to conclusions by spending some time with your users in their environments.

2. Use “thick description” to help your team back at the office see what you saw. Clifford Geertz talks about thick description as providing enough context surrounding an action to understand what it means to the actors. Was a wink an act of flirtation? A shared joke? Or dust in a contact lens?

3. You have to learn before you can solve a problem. Make sure you gather data first and figure out what’s going on second.

4. Use careful observation to find the things that others find so natural they’d never tell you about them. If aliens visited and asked you about your life, you wouldn’t mention breathing, but it’s critical to your survival.

5. Don’t forget to say “thank you.”

Understanding others is a skill you strengthen over time. Start engaging your users now with conversations and field trips; you’ll notice it gets easier and you learn more every time.

View my talk, or reach out and ask a question. We can all learn something from each other.