User Centered, not Designer Centered Design
Even if you fit the user persona, you’re not designing for yourself
I recently started a UX design internship, and my first order of business was completing an audit of their current product. I used the app as I would if I was a user — and I very well could be. I am solidly in their target user base, and I’ve used similar products before. I definitely had my designer hat on as well, but I was mainly looking at the product as me.
Having finished an initial audit, I gathered a hefty list of heuristics principles violations, unintuitive buttons, navigational inconsistencies, and more. If I stopped there and jumped into Sketching (whether analog or digital), I probably could have generated some perfectly acceptable solutions.
At this point, I had a choice to make — start designing, or conduct more research. Sure, I was a potential user — but I was only a sample size of one. Acceptable, not great. Why should I settle for acceptable? As I’ve learned from designing in the past several months, your designs are only as good as the research behind them.
I decided to conduct a round of usability testing with the current app. This took about 2 weeks, from planning to sourcing users to synthesizing insights. In addition to highlighting new issues, much of what we learned validated what I had highlighted in my own audit. This made my case stronger for redesigning those particular pages and flows.
While we never directly asked what users would want to see, often our testers just offered potential solutions as they would want to see them. Thank you users, for unknowingly participating in our ideation session as well!
Another unintended result of testing: gauging general interest in the product itself. To remove testing bias, we sought out individuals who would fit the user persona, but were unfamiliar with the app. Despite this being their first time with the app, a majority of our testers responded extremely positively to the concept. While the purpose of the usability test was narrowly focused on understanding whether users can accomplish certain tasks within the app, enthusiastic feedback was just a cherry on top!
Of course, this wasn’t exactly a shocking revelation — our founder and the company’s early backers knew this. But it was the first time that a testing participant told me that they were rooting for me, and that my work was important. I wouldn’t have experienced this firsthand if I hadn’t invested time into testing, and that in itself made the 2 weeks of research worth it.