On User Requirements

Baxter et al state that before a product or service is complete, the designer must ensure that end users can actually use it and that it contains the features they need. Products which can’t be used with ease or which solve only part of the user’s problem are failures. Failed products waste development effort as measured in both time and money. Failed products lead to bad professional reputations at best and company failures at worst. All of these adverse outcomes can be avoided with a little investment in research in the early stages of product planning.   

An axiom of website or app development is “know thy user for they are not you.” It’s easy for an experienced designer to assume that she knows what the end user needs. Even worse, a designer might assume that the end user will be forced to accept what’s given to them, particularly if it’s believed that they have no alternative (a situation that can arise inside of a corporate intranet, for instance).

It’s deadly to project success when a designer assumes that they know what the user needs. It leads them to simply build a product premised on beliefs that come from a place of ignorance. I know how I would use a planned product. I know what features I’d like it to have. I know what circumstances under which I’d use the product. I know what kind of hardware I’d run the product on. None of these “knowns” do anything to inform the designer about what should be built. Without research, there’s nothing to suggest that the end user shares anything in common with the designer. The most likely product use cases may be in direct opposition to those imagined by the designer.

The designer might imagine they’d use the product during the day where lighting is good. They might imagine they’d use the product when a wi-fi connection is readily available. They might imagine that the end user has the same visual acuity that they have. None of these things may be true. If the bulk of the product’s users end up using the product in the dark, in a remote location with no wi-fi availability, and with vision-impaired users, the product would be a failure. By taking the time to ask a group of typical end users, the designer can avoid the traps laid by assumptions and get hard data that informs the product’s design parameters that will lead to the greatest potential for success.